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Prosecutors: Teacher had sex with Canyon Ridge student

TWIN FALLS — Prosecutors say the Twin Falls teacher charged with rape admitted to having sex with a 17-year-old student he had taught at Canyon Ridge High School.

Jason Benjamin, 39, was arraigned Friday and jailed on a $100,000 bond. Benjamin was most recently a math teacher at Robert Stuart Middle School, but had taught at Canyon Ridge from 2009 until 2017. The alleged victim was a student of Benjamin’s at Canyon Ridge during the 2016-17 school year, according to a police affidavit.

The pair reconnected this fall, when the former student added Benjamin on Facebook, according to the affidavit. After about one week of messaging back and forth, Benjamin invited the teenager to his home, she told police.

She allegedly visited his apartment several times in October to “make out” and watch movies. During one of the visits, they had sex, she said. The teen also told authorities that she had sent Benjamin unsolicited photos of herself in her underwear over Facebook messenger.

Benjamin admitted to police that he had sex with the girl one time. He said he was aware that she was 17 at the time, and that “he knew it was wrong but did not know how to make it stop,” according to the affidavit.

The teenager ended the relationship over Facebook messenger shortly after the encounter, both she and Benjamin said.

It’s unclear whether there are other victims, but Twin Falls prosecuting attorney Grant Loebs said he did not have reason to believe that there was more than one.

Benjamin has worked at Twin Falls schools for 12 years, according to the district. He began as a teacher at Robert Stuart Middle School in the 2005-06 school year. After one year at Robert Stuart, he moved to Twin Falls High School, where he taught from 2006 until 2009.

He returned to Robert Stuart as a math teacher this school year because he had had an affair with another teacher at Canyon Ridge and was trying to reconcile with his wife, Benjamin told police.

A search of Idaho court records turned up a pending divorce, filed by Benjamin’s wife in November, but no criminal history.

While teaching at Canyon Ridge, Benjamin also served as an assistant coach for the track and cross country teams. He had a contract to be assistant track coach again this year.

He has been placed on administrative leave by the Twin Falls School District, and is legally forbidden to have contact with any minors under the age of 18 who are not relatives.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 5.

Burn victim faces long road to recovery

TWIN FALLS — A local man is still recovering at a Utah burn center nearly 10 weeks after he was severely burned in a farm accident.

Bryan Silvester, 60, of Twin Falls was filling a fuel tank in the back of his pickup with diesel for his combine Oct. 30 when the fuel ignited. Neighbor Jake Billington was at a stop sign about a quarter-mile away when he saw the flash and black smoke.

“A big old flame shot across the road,” Billington said.

Billington, 25, quickly drove to the scene just west of the airport and found Silvester on fire.

“He was running around trying to get his pants off,” Billington said. “I took my jacket and beat at the flames.”

Forty percent of Silvester’s body — mostly from the waist down — received third-degree burns and worse. The fire burned through the fat on his legs to the muscle, his son Mitch Silvester said. The tips of his fingers were burned to the bone.

“It’s something I don’t ever want to see again,” Billington said.

Silvester had his seventh major surgery Friday, said his son, who is staying with family in the Salt Lake City area to be near his father.

Silvester was flown to the University of Utah’s Burn Center, where he was sedated for 40 days to manage his pain. He contracted pneumonia several times, being unable to cough with a ventilator.

“It’s been really hard,” Mitch Silvester, 35, said.

No one knows what triggered the explosion.

“All the evidence burned up,” he said.

Billington said it looked to him like the electric pump on the 4,000-gallon diesel tank shorted out.

“I got right on the phone and called 911,” he said.

Silvester’s pants burned off but his gloves were stuck, burning his hands, Billington said. Luckily, another man showed up with a pocket tool and cut his gloves off. Billington put Silvester in his pickup to keep him warm.

“That wind was blowing like crazy,” he said. Neighbors finished harvesting Silvester’s corn crop.

“We owe a huge debt to the neighbors who’ve helped out,” Mitch Silvester said.

Back at the burn center, doctors surgically removed the burned flesh one leg at a time, then grafted skin from Silvester’s back, stomach and chest — until they ran out of healthy flesh and resorted to using cadaver and synthetic skin for temporary grafts, his son said.

He is now off sedatives and the ventilator but is still on pain medication. He remembers being on fire and someone calling 911.

“They have to keep the grafts moving and bending,” his son said, “so the healing doesn’t limit his range of motion.

“He has a long road ahead.”



Tony Dejak 

A man rides on his bicycle as fresh snow falls, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, in Erie, Pa. The cold weather pattern was expected to continue through the holiday weekend and likely longer, according to the National Weather Service, prolonging a stretch of brutal weather blamed for several deaths, crashes and fires. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Cassia schools will switch to neighborhood schools in fall

BURLEY— Plans for Burley’s new neighborhood elementary schools, which include new attendance zones for students and new teacher assignments, are nearly complete.

Cassia County School District’s board will take a final look at the plans mid-January before sending notices out to parents.

The shift will also mean a tightened open enrollment policy for the district.

“We know there will be some anxiety and growing pains,” said Debbie Critchfield, spokeswoman for the district. “But we are starting early to minimize that. It will be a change for Burley, but I think it will be a positive change in the eyes of families.”

The change will be implemented at the start of school in the fall.

“I think it’s going to be a positive move,” Superintendent Gaylen Smyer said. “Neighborhood schools are really the norm.”

The schools in the outlying communities, he said, have always been neighborhood schools.

The new attendance zones run in strips from north to south inside the city and extend jaggedly into the surrounding rural areas.

The board made the decision to implement the four neighborhood schools during the 2015 construction bond when patrons indicated they would prefer it to having the K-3 elementary schools and all Burley students in 4-6 grades attending White Pine Intermediate School.

John V. Evans Elementary School, built with bond money, allows the district to make the switch.

The new configuration means students will change schools one less time before junior high school, Critchfield, said.

“We are trying to reduce the number of transitions from schools,” Critchfield said.

Each time a student changes schools, all the institutional knowledge that teachers and principals had of that child is lost.

“The new school has no knowledge of that student unless the parents share it,” she said. “And having that knowledge can help the student be more successful.”

Changing schools can also be hard socially for children.

The fewer times students switch schools, the less “king of the hill” behavior is seen, she said.

“There is a lot of data suggesting neighborhood schools have some advantages,” Smyer said.

One benefit for parents is keeping siblings at the same school longer.

For some parents that will mean a one-stop drop off and pickup, and parents can put all their support into one school, Smyer said.

The district also anticipates the bus routes will operate more smoothly.

Critchfield said meeting notes from 1993-94 revealed the logic behind the district making the change to K-3 schools at the time.

She said when White Pine was new there was considerable patron contention over which students would attend the new school.

“So the board devised a way for every kid to have a chance to go to the new school,” Critchfield said.

A patron’s committee helped formulate the neighborhood school plan and then the information was put into a software program that drew the boundaries.

Every single home in the city was identified, including how many children were in the home.

The north-south boundaries ensure that cross sections of socio-economic demographics are included at each school.

“It’s a mathematical program. There is nothing subjective about it,” Critchfield said.

All of the district’s schools are south of Main Street.

Critchfield said that is because there was no property available on the north side of Burley when the district was purchasing property several years ago.

Changing the configuration of the elementary schools also meant making new teacher assignments.

Teacher surveys were sent out asking them their first preference for schools and grades.

In many cases the district was able to meet both preferences and in very few cases the district could not meet any of the preferences.

The district also tightened its open enrollment policy grandfathering families in an area east of Burley, where some families chose Declo schools and some Burley. Once property is sold in that area, the new boundary lines will apply.

Cases where parents apply for open enrollment will be considered on a case-to-case basis.

At the end of the 2017-2018 school year, the district will also hire a new principal for John V. Evans Elementary.