WHS theater teacher Rick Eldredge arrested on felony charges

Photo illustration by KAVLEEN SINGH.

Photo illustration by KAVLEEN SINGH.

It is hard for former student Sierra Zellmer to come to terms with the arrest of theater teacher Mr. Rick Eldredge, 41, on Dec. 23.

“I am devastated. I am trying so hard to stay off of social media and talk to others, because I don’t want to blacken my image of the man I’ve known for almost six years,” Zellmer said.

Rocklin police arrested Eldredge under suspicion of unlawful sexual contact with a minor. He was booked into Placer County Jail.

“I wasn’t planning on hearing news like this. I’ve never had the chance to interact with Eldredge one-on-one, but working with him in ‘The Sound of Music’ last year let many students, including myself, see his dedication to the theater program and his passion for the arts. My thoughts go out to his family that are affected by this, the theater students who thought of him as a role model, and the minor who is impacted by this situation,” Class of 2013 graduate Kristyn Lorek said.

School administrators were unable to comment on the personnel issue, but The Sacramento Bee reported, “The 17-year-old female victim told officers that Eldredge more than once texted her for sex or naked photos, according to a police press release.” While the arrest took place Dec. 23, an investigation had been underway for more than 10 days. The victim has not been named but is a former WHS student.

Max Freire had Eldredge for Theater Arts I when he was a freshman, and discovered the news on Twitter the day of the arrest.

“I feel it’s unfortunate and funny at the same time. I think it’s funny because almost the same thing happened last year with [former WHS physics teacher Mr. Matt Yamamoto]. I think these ‘teachers’ need to fill their role properly. They need to know their boundaries. Eldredge didn’t fit that role; he’s always been really flirty with girls ever since I’ve known him. He messed up; I have no sympathy for mess-ups,” Freire said.

Vikram Verma noticed the same thing as Freire about Eldredge from being a student in his Theatre Arts I class this year.

“I’ve always seen him hugging and having close contact with girls,” Verma said.

Aman Singh, also in Eldredge’s Theater Arts I class, said she noticed flirtatious advances Eldredge may have had towards girls in his class.

“He does show a little bit more affection to a lot of girls in class, like touchy-feely kind of stuff. He touches girls on the back and shoulders, like randomly when there’s no reason to touch the person,” Singh said.

However, many of Eldredge’s students never suspected anything crude in his behavior. Ashlyn Armstrong, for instance, said throughout the four years she knew Eldredge that “he has never expressed any inappropriate behavior towards any student.”

Principal Mrs. Debra Hawkins issued an email statement early in the afternoon on Dec. 23 to all parents and students to address the situation. Many students discovered this news via that email, including Drama Club member Jonah Petty.

“I’m heartbroken for him because he really did cherish his students, and we cherished him. Unfortunately, it seems that he made a poor choice as well as this girl. I’m also confused because it just never occurred to me that he would do something like this. I’m numb. I want to scream and cry but all I can do is just wait until something is decided,” Petty said.

Petty is involved in the spring production of “Evita,” to which rehearsals were postponed since Eldredge was absent from school prior to the start of winter break. The email from Hawkins confirmed Eldredge had been placed on administrative leave Dec. 11, which meant he was absent from class for the final five school days of the semester, affecting all of his students.

“Play practice was canceled a few days, but some of the students rehearsed on their own time, I believe. We were told that Eldredge was away on family matters, which many people assumed was because he had a funeral to attend or something of the sort. None of us suspected Eldredge of foul play, which is probably why this is such a shock,” Harmony Reilly, also involved in the musical, said.

Singh said she wasn’t convinced when she saw the note stating that he was away due to family matters.

“I thought it was odd that [Mrs.] Hawkins wrote a note saying he left because of family reasons because you could tell something was wrong by the way the sub was behaving. It just didn’t seem like family matters [were] the reason he was gone,” Singh said.

Hawkins said a certified substitute will cover the theater classes when classes resume Jan. 6, and the administration is working on hiring a director to continue the production of “Evita,” scheduled for February and March.

“For the musical, I couldn’t imagine a better director than Eldredge, but if they find a replacement I’m sure the musical will be fine,” Armstrong said.

Megan Sanders, who was a student through Theater Arts III/IV as well as involved in multiple theater productions, considers Eldredge’s alleged sexting with the minor a betrayal.

“I’m disappointed that he would make such a stupid decision, especially right after this same exact thing happened to a colleague of his over a year ago. I’m also upset because he was a good teacher and was well-liked by all of his students, so for him to throw everything away like that was selfish and wrong,” Sanders said.

Reilly’s father, Jim Reilly, also expresses disappointment with the situation.

“My experience with [Mr.] Eldredge was positive and I thought he had a special talent as a drama teacher. It is important to remember that allegations are not equivalent to facts. But if the truth of the matter is largely consistent with the reasons the police made an arrest, then it’s despicable and that kind of behavior is not welcome in our community. An inappropriate relationship between teacher and student violates trust in a way that is categorically wrong. I was disappointed to read the letter from the principal. I feel badly for all affected. I am also saddened for all the wonderful teachers who have had their reputations besmirched by association,” Reilly said.

The reputation of the school has been called into question by students on social media, partially because this is the second such incident among male teachers at the school within the past year or so.

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Randall Cheng, however, is optimistic about the school’s standing.

“Despite these accusations that may or may not be true, Whitney is still a safe school with a lot to offer students with its advanced and prestigious programs,” Cheng said.

General sentiments about Eldredge indicate he was talented and well-liked.

“He has good character. I liked the guy,” Freire said.

Zellmer referred to him as “an incredible mentor” to the theater class of 2013.

Eldredge is an original Whitney staff member from the school’s opening in August 2005 and has won multiple theater festival awards and gained prominence through his work as an actor.

Sanders said, “To any teachers reading, please don’t do this. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth throwing your life or your students’ education away.”



Editor’s note: The initial post of this story occurred 24 hours after the arrest because of the time involved in getting and verifying as much information as possible. In the time since our story’s release, we have received comments on and off-line from readers, so we’d like to remind our audience that students who shared their observations with our reporters knew the interviews were for publication, and those represent only the viewpoints of individuals as named. As more official information becomes available, we will release another story. In the meantime, we hope readers will avoid further speculation.