Supporters rally for Rock Bridge teacher

They defend the instructor accused of molesting a student.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:17 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Several supporters of a Rock Bridge High School teacher accused of molesting a 16-year-old male student rallied outside the Columbia Public Schools Administration Building on Monday afternoon.

“I understand that children need to be protected, but so do innocent people,” said Tricia Straub, who described herself as a longtime friend of teacher Judy Burke. “She is very close to her students. Many consider her to be their friend. She would never do anything to hurt them.”

Burke was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of second-degree child molestation, a Class A misdemeanor. The 51-year-old learning specialist at Rock Bridge is scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 8 in Boone County court.

An anonymous caller contacted Columbia Public Schools officials last week to report a Rock Bridge teacher had molested a student this summer at the high school, police said.

Burke supporter Jeanie Kuntz, who held a sign in front of the administration building on West Worley Street that read “Judy is innocent ­— Support a GREAT teacher,” said that she was shocked when she first heard of the 51-year-old teacher’s arrest. She said Burke is trying to cope with the situation.

“Judy is trying to stay positive in light of the charges,” Kuntz said.

Columbia police Detective Latisha Stroer said the alleged victim was contacted by police, and Burke was later interviewed. Burke was arrested without incident at Rock Bridge High School on Wednesday. She was released on her own recognizance.

Burke’s daughter and eight to 10 other Rock Bridge High School students also stood in support of Burke.

“We know her, and we know she would never do this,” Rock Bridge junior Emily Elliott said. “These were false accusations. Ms. Burke is a great teacher.”

On Monday, Columbia police said they were investigating other reports involving Burke that were received after the original tip was received last Tuesday.

“We’ve gotten other calls,” Stroer said. “We’re looking into those to see if they can be verified. This case remains open, but no other victims have come forward.”

Stroer declined to say how many calls she’s received regarding Burke’s arrest, but said police have received more than one.

“We’re hearing a lot of rumors,” she said. “Now, it’s finding out what’s true and not true, but nothing’s been verified.”

Stroer declined to comment on the details of the alleged molestation. Repeated attempts to reach Burke have been unsuccessful.

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