An Atwater high school teacher accused of an inappropriate relationship with two of his students pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor battery charges Tuesday afternoon in Merced Superior Court.
Robert Fragulia, a 32-year-old teacher at Buhach Colony High School, agreed to a plea deal calling for a suspended sentence of six months in jail and three years of informal probation. He'll also have to surrender his teaching credential, attend 10 counseling sessions and abide by a restraining order barring contact with his victims and their family members.
The misdemeanor battery charges stemmed from accusations that he kissed two 17-year-old female students and exchanged text messages with them between June 10, 2010, and Oct. 31, 2011, according to court records. The text messages, although not of a sexual nature, were highly inappropriate for a teacher-student relationship, according to Merced County Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Carroll.
Despite rumors, there were no allegations supporting sexual intercourse between Fragulia and his students, according to court documents.
Fragulia had been on paid administrative leave since October, according to Merced Union High School District Superintendent Scott Scambray.
Scambray couldn't say more about the situation, citing personnel confidentiality concerns.
Fragulia was a popular teacher at the school, and family members of the victims said the girls faced harassment from students and staff on campus when knowledge of the investigation began to spread. One victim's stepfather said he was disappointed in the school's response to the matter.
"He robbed our girls of their youthful innocence, and the school has done nothing to protect these girls," he said, adding that the teacher's supporters even created a "Team Fragulia" Facebook group to deny the charges.
Carroll echoed those sentiments: "Anytime you have teacher-student relationship, the teacher has to exercise self-control."
Family members of the victims said they were glad the matter was coming to a close, but said in a statement read by Carroll that more punishment should have been handed down and urged the school district to review its screening process for new teachers.