Southern Local teacher on paid leave after sex crime charges

Katie Ruefner was charged with a sex crime in Kansas and just recently hired in Columbiana County.
Katie Ruefner (Photo courtesy of Garden City Telegram)

SALINEVILLE, Ohio (WKBN) – The Southern Local School District has placed a teacher on administrative leave after authorities in Kansas charged her with a sex crime.

A representative for the jail in Finney County, Kansas confirmed that police charged Katie Rufener, 26, with two counts of unlawful sexual relations for having sex with a student. She is facing more than eight years in prison for the charges.

The three reported incidents for which Rufener has been charged happened between March 19 and April 10, all at Rufener’s Garden City home, according to the Finney County Sheriff’s Office.

Rufener voluntarily appeared in Finney County District Court on October 1 and was released on an “own recognizance bond,” meaning she did not have to pay a bond to be released.

It is a case that has shocked many in the small community of Holcomb, as well as locally, in the Southern Local School District in Columbiana.

Rufener, a Kinsman native and Thiel College graduate, taught at Holcomb High School from 2012 until 2015, when she returned to northeast Ohio to teach anatomy, physiology and biology at Southern Local. After school leaders found out about the charges against Rufener in Kansas, she was promptly placed on paid leave.

Southern Local Schools Superintendent John Wilson issued the following statement to WKBN when asked about the situation:

The matter has been referred to the school attorney. The teacher is on administrative leave pending investigation. The school board and administration consider this a serious matter and will give it top priority until resolved.

While Southern Local School officials would not speak to WKBN on camera, parents and grandparents in the district said they are shocked to hear about the charges.

“That’s not good. We hear about it in a lot of bigger schools, and to have it happen here in a small community is just something you didn’t expect,” said Seth Perfetto.

The student was 18 when the sexual encounters reportedly occurred, but under Kansas law, it is still illegal for a teacher to have sex with a student — even if the student is 18.

Deb Tsesmilles, a grandparent of a Southern Local student, said, due to the circumstances, she is not concerned about the safety of her grandchild at the school.

“I was happy to hear it was an 18-year-old student, and I was happy to hear it was just charges and that she hasn’t been found guilty yet,” she said.

Rufener was a science teacher and head cheerleading coach at Holcomb High before she resigned from the district last spring. Holcomb Superintendent Jean Rush said the district received her letter of resignation on March 2015, and it was accepted by the board at that time.

Although Rufener resigned earlier in the spring and all staff positions have since been filled, school district officials said they are moving forward with student safety in mind.

“Our expectation is that as employees, that we have healthy and safe relationships for all of our students,” Rush said.

The school district said it will continue to cooperate with any investigation.

“The most important thing in our district is the safety of our students and so that is our top priority,” Rush said.

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