SHEBOYGAN - When a Sheboygan Area Lutheran High School graduate told school leaders a music teacher groomed her when she was a student and sexually assaulted her months after she graduated, the principal told her she should take her allegations to law enforcement instead, according to the police report of her complaint.
Administrators not only kept the teacher in the classroom after the allegations surfaced, but the regional Lutheran school district named him high school Teacher of the Year.
This was after school leaders knew that police cited the now 36-year-old teacher, Matthew Thiel, for giving alcohol to the former student when she was a minor the summer after she graduated.
Thiel also continued teaching after the former student offered to present evidence to school leaders and had screenshots of text messages between her and Thiel that she says were from her time in high school, including exchanges in which Thiel wrote "luv you" to her and sent an angry and profane response when he learned she had kissed a prom date.
Thiel was not charged with any crimes after Mayer reported to police
Calling it “a breaking point” and “a huge slap in the face” that he was named 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year, former student Marissa Mayer did what the school had told her to do — she reported him to the Sheboygan Police Department. No charges were brought as a result of her report.
The Sheboygan Press investigated Sheboygan Lutheran's response to Mayer's complaint. Months of reporting included interviews with Mayer and her father, school officials, district and Lutheran church officials, legal experts and sexual assault experts, and a review of police and school documents.
Thiel, in an email to the Sheboygan Press, declined to comment on his relationship with Mayer after she graduated but denied her allegation of sexual assault.
Following publication of this article, Thiel denied Mayer’s allegation of grooming in another email to the Sheboygan Press. Thiel also said his school was not responsible for the award or its timing. He said Sheboygan Lutheran leaders did not publicize that he received the district-level award “because of wanting to investigate Marissa’s accusations.”
He resigned from Sheboygan Lutheran in June at the end of the 2021-2022 year to continue his education, he said.
According to school Executive Director Paul Gnan, Thiel announced his intentions to resign in February, which was before the Sheboygan Press contacted Thiel and the school about Mayer's allegations.
'The responsibility in taking care of this has been all me,' Mayer says
The Press's reporting found that the 139 Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod schools in Wisconsin, which do not have to implement the anti-harassment policies required in public schools around the state, establish such rules on a school-by-school basis — and Sheboygan Lutheran’s policies, at least, can leave students reporting sexual harassment and violence vulnerable to inaction.
Thiel’s relationship with Mayer in high school raised concerns for her parents and others at the school before she reported him, according to police reports, although she says the relationship did not become physical until after she graduated and had turned 18. Mayer and her father believe the school did not take her allegations seriously enough after she informed administrators.
“I definitely feel like the responsibility in taking care of this has been all me,” Mayer said.
The Press's reporting also follows Mayer's report to police and demonstrates why sexual assault allegations often fail to lead to criminal charges.
Why the Sheboygan Press used names in this article
The Sheboygan Press is taking the unusual step of identifying someone who reported sexual assault because Mayer consented to being named for this story. The newspaper has identified Thiel, although he has not been charged with a crime in connection with Mayer's allegations, after weighing the public’s interest in knowing about these accusations made against a Wisconsin-licensed teacher and the way they were handled by Sheboygan Area Lutheran High School leadership.
Identifying the teacher involved was essential to readers’ full understanding of the circumstances and the school’s response, and it prevents anyone else being mistakenly identified as a subject of this story, the newspaper determined.
If you have thoughts about the reporting or news decision-making, you may contact Sheboygan Press Editor Brandon Reid at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Sheboygan Press: How Sheboygan Lutheran responded to a report of sexual assault