School officials, parent testify in Springboro ex-gym teacher child sex trial

Lawyers questioned the principal at Clearcreek Elementary School Tuesday about the investigation that led to the indictment of former gym teacher John Austin Hopkins on 36 felonies accusing him of sexually abusing the first graders in his cases.

Principal Carrie Corder followed the parent of the child who sounded the initial alarm in the case after coming home joyful at getting to sit on Hopkins' lap.

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Corder told Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Julie Kraft she viewed Hopkins touch the children and push away them away when adults came into the classroom.

"The girls were immediately pushed off," Corder said during testimony in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

Hopkins, 25, of Springboro, faces three dozen charges related to 28 first-grade girls in his gym class at Clearcreek Elementary School in Springboro. He was indicted on June 17, after a lengthy investigation of the alleged classroom incidents from December 2018 to March 2019.

"I observed girls trying to get away from him," Corder added. "Some were able to get away. Others were not.”

Hopkins, a graduate of Springboro schools and son of a longtime Springboro teacher, also coached swimming at Coffman Y in Springboro, prior to the case.

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He was placed on leave in last March, two days after a parent talked with their daughter about sitting on Hopkins' lap.

On the witness stand, the father testified it was “almost frightening as a parent to hear your daughter say what happened.”

"My daughter was very excited about it,” he added about what he described as "a parent's worst nightmare".

Later, the girl, 8, testified she never talked about it with her father.

Prosecutors need to prove Hopkins was sexually gratified by interactions with the children, pulled from close to 300 hours of surveillance video of Hopkins' classes.

Carrie Hester, now the district superintendent, testified about four video fragments she saw Hopkins with an erection.

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“You see much more of a bulge,” said Hester, at the time the human resources director.

The defense presented video and asked Hester questions about whether it could have been his cellphone. 
Hester and Corder said Hopkins panicked as he was put on leave and made incriminating statements.

There was also testimony about a door bell Hopkins installed on the classroom door, without permission.

Other teachers installed door bells to help in situations where doors are to be locked for security, Hester said.

Hopkins' lawyers showed video showing other school staff in similar positions with students and segments of students greeting him with hugs as he entered the classroom.

There were disagreement about whether Hopkins was properly trained to teach first graders.

Before the trial began Tuesday, the school district's lawyer raised the issue of revealing personally identifiable information abut past or current students.

“If someone refuses to answer a question, I’ll order them to answer,” Judge Robert Peeler said.

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