East Aurora school officials expressed shock Wednesday at the arrest of a high school teacher on drug charges and said they had been unaware of at least one of his previous brushes with the law.
District officials said they did not learn of the arrest of Ryan J. Ellis, a technology teacher and golf coach, until Tuesday afternoon, more than 18 hours after police stopped his car at Goodyear Avenue and East Ferry Street on Buffalo’s East Side and allegedly found a small amount of crack cocaine.
Ellis, 36, of Meadowbrook Drive, North Tonawanda, was arraigned Tuesday in Buffalo City Court on a misdemeanor count of criminal possession of a controlled substance. He was placed on a paid leave of absence Wednesday after meeting with administrators.
In a prepared statement, the district said Ellis is not teaching any students. The statement also indicated that officials learned for the first time this week about Ellis’ conviction for misdemeanor drug possession in 2000 in connection with a party he attended where a fatal drug overdose occurred. He began working in the East Aurora schools in 2003.
The district started an internal investigation into the matter Wednesday and said Ellis will remain on leave while the investigation continues. District officials also said they are working with law enforcement and have advised the state Education Department of the criminal matter.
In an interview late Wednesday afternoon, School Superintendent Brian D. Russ said the district had no knowledge of Ellis’ 2000 conviction before he was hired.
Records show Ellis pleaded guilty to seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. He was one of several people charged with bringing the drug Ecstasy to a North Tonawanda party where a man died from a drug overdose.
Ellis was sentenced in 2001 to three years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
Russ said Ellis was fingerprinted while applying for his job, as is standard practice for those hired to work in a school, and was cleared for employment in 2003 by the state Education Department.
“[The Ecstasy case] was never brought to our attention as he went through the finger- printing process,” Russ said. “We didn’t have any [background] on that. Nobody had any knowledge of the first offense.”
Of Ellis’ arrest Monday, Russ said: “We were shocked to learn of this. It’s just so terribly disappointing for everyone involved – the community, our parents and especially the kids. It’s a terrible shame.
“But he hasn’t been convicted, so we have to work through the process,” added Russ, who was not superintendent of East Aurora at the time Ellis was hired.
A lingering question is whether the district knew of Ellis’ two subsequent convictions for driving while intoxicated. District officials did not comment on that point Wednesday.
Ellis pleaded guilty in Amherst Town Court to driving while intoxicated in 2006, according to court records. He was given a conditional discharge and his license was revoked.
In 2009, he pleaded guilty in Tonawanda City Court to DWI. Again, he was given a conditional discharge and saw his license revoked, according to court records.
A high school senior who attended the Wednesday night School Board meeting said afterward in an interview that she was surprised by Ellis’ arrest record, but she praised him as a good teacher.
Mary Luellen had Ellis as a teacher last year.
“He was really nice and funny,” she said. “He didn’t seem like that kind of a guy. Not at all. Not, at least, in school.”