District moves to fire vice principal, teacher after probe

TOPPENISH, Wash. — The Toppenish School District has served notices to a high school vice principal and a teacher that they will be fired after an investigation for alleged inappropriate behavior with a high school student, according to a district official and documents obtained by the Yakima Herald-Republic.

The newspaper reports John L. and Bertha Cerna have been under investigation by the school district, Yakima County Sheriff’s Office and Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The pair, who worked at Toppenish High School, has been on paid administrative leave since June. They are the son and daughter-in-law of district Superintendent John M. Cerna.

In the discharge and nonrenewal notices issued Thursday, Assistant Superintendent and Human Resources Manager Shawn Myers said the investigation found that Johnny and Bertha Cerna acted in an inappropriate manner in their roles as educators.

Yakima lawyer Sarah Wixson conducted the investigation and reported her findings to the school district.

In the report, Wixson found it “more probable than not” that Johnny Cerna engaged in inappropriately intimate online conversations with a then-student at Toppenish High School in an attempt to cultivate a sexual relationship with her.

Wixson’s report also said it was “more probable than not” that Bertha Cerna knew about and encouraged the concerning relationship between Johnny Cerna and that student, with whom she was inappropriately close.

The report also found it “more probable than not” that Johnny Cerna and Bertha Cerna provided the student with alcohol on separate occasions.

Bertha Cerna declined to comment for the story while Johnny Cerna was not immediately available and didn’t respond to a voicemail seeking comment. They can appeal the decision.