EXCLUSIVE STORY: Teacher apologizes for "sexual comments" made in art class

An Elkhart art teacher accused of making sexual comments to his fifth-grade students, spoke exclusively with NewsCenter 16 as an unemployed man.

On Tuesday, the Elkhart School Board unanimously voted to fire Stephen Hentsch, 48, a 15-year veteran of the district.

The former Mary Feeser Elementary School art instructor admits to misspeaking to a class full of ten and 11-year-olds, but believes things have been blown out of proportion.

"I wanted students to steer away from anything that could be overtly sexual or obscene or violent for that matter in their artwork,” Hentsch said while sitting inside the living room of his Cass County home.

Hentsch, who describes himself as a devout Christian, says the latest issue occurred on Valentine's Day. On that Tuesday, he recalls feeling convicted to lecture his class on Hollywood’s sexual stereotype of the romantic holiday.

"Sex is just one facet of the wonderful gift of love that God gave us. So I just mentioned that the Hollywood version of love is often two people in bed,” Hentsch recalled.

On a separate occasion, Hentsch explained the artistic concept of "space,” by verbally and visually showing a finger going into a hole. Following class, students contacted school leaders.

"I think it was a girl on the other side of the room who asked, ‘what is penetration?’ So I just said, ‘something going into something.’ I may have used my hand with my finger just to show, something going into something,” Hentsch demonstrated.

Kaitlin Merklein, 11, had the misfortune of being present for both discussions, during which she and her fellow classmates repeatedly asked Hentsch to stop.

"I was just shocked and like he just kept going on and on. So I just raised my hand and asked him to stop and he said no because he thought every student should learn about it,” Kaitlin remembered.

In the two months since, Kaitlin’s mother has been forced to explain the concept of sex to her daughter, who until Valentine’s Day 2012, still thought boys had cooties.

"I was infuriated, I was absolutely infuriated. She now wants to know different terms that he talked about. Things like, ‘what does it mean and how do you do it?’ I don't want her to know this, but I don't know how to take it all back,” a disgruntled Anna Merklein said.

For now, Hentsch’s teaching life sits in a brown cardboard box on his living room floor, with a renewed hope in life, he says, coming from his savior above.

"I guess it just brings you closer to Jesus because that's what happened to him, he got accused wrongly and was treated horribly and mocked. In that way this is an honorable time,” Hentsch added.

"I don't understand his mindset. I don't understand what he felt he was doing. It did no good to teach an 11-year-old kid these words, it did no good to show them pictures, it just did no good,” Merklein concluded.

Stephen Hentsch says he's waiting for God to open another door in his life. However, he hasn't ruled out the prospect of teaching art at another local school district. Until then, he plans to continue creating and selling Christian crafts and artwork from the comfort of his own home.

"I just tried to be the best example I could in the classroom. But it was a mistake and I acknowledge that and I apologize to the parents who may be watching, I misspoke,” Hentsch concluded.

Administrators with Elkhart Community Schools would not comment further on Mr. Hentsch’s actions, saying his termination closed its relationship with the artistically expressive instructor.

To read Superintendent Mark Mow's recommendation to remove Stephen Hentsch from the district, click on the document above this story.

You can also access our original report on Mr. Hentsch’s termination, via the link below.

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