WOODSTOCK – A former District 200 teacher was acquitted on all charges that he inappropriately touched two of his students on the rear end.
The bench trial for Jeffrey M. Steurer, 39, of Caledonia, ended Friday in not guilty verdicts for two misdemeanor battery charges against him.
Immediately after the verdict, Steurer turned to his teary-eyed wife and a gallery of supporters, whom he hugged one by one.
Outside the courtroom, he acknowledged his case as a cautionary tale for teachers.
"It's a teacher's nightmare and I lived it," the father of four said.
On Thursday, Judge Joel Berg tossed one of Steurer's two cases before the defense presented any witnesses. At the same time, the judge allowed the allegations of a different student of Steurer's to be heard.
That girl, who was a fifth grader at Olson Elementary School at the time and had music classes with Steurer, said the teacher placed his hand on her back, then touched her butt for a few seconds.
Berg said Friday that he couldn't reconcile inconsistencies in the girl's police statements – specifically that the dates and location of the incidents had changed from interview to interview.
"I'll be honest, I don't know what happened, I don't how it happened," Berg said. "I have way more than reasonable doubt. The finding of this court is not guilty."
Assistant State's Attorney Brian Miller said any changes in the girl's statements were the result of a confused and scared child.
He also argued that touching was not incidental as defense attorney Margi Worth suggested.
"Given that his hand was there a couple seconds, it was not an accident," Miller said.
Steurer took to the witness stand and denied ever touching his accuser's rear end, or initiating hugs with students. If they hugged him, he wouldn't push them away.
Worth called two District 200 teachers to testify, and both provided similar testimony about hugging, saying it's not uncommon to hug students.
"I think teachers need to be cautious, it's not necessarily an encouraged practice," District 200 teacher and union president Karen Bergren said.
District 200 officials placed Steurer on paid leave after his arrest, and in June he accepted a severance package worth nearly $27,000 without admitting any guilt. He has since been teaching private music lessons.
District 200 officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.