GONZALES — A Dutchtown High School teacher recognized statewide for professional excellence and community service was arrested Wednesday on allegations he had shared inappropriate messages and photographs with underage students for more than five years, Ascension prosecutors said.
Mark Ebarb, the Dutchtown High School teacher accused of sharing inappropriate messages and photographs with underage students, has served as …
Mark Ebarb, 32, a former Ascension Parish teacher of the year and finalist for the state title in 2014-15, surrendered to deputies Wednesday morning.
The parish grand jury indicted him a day earlier on a single count of indecent behavior with a juvenile younger than 17, but prosecutors said the charge is a blanket count reflective of several allegations involving multiple students.
The indictment alleges the inappropriate activity extended back to Aug. 1, 2014.
Neither prosecutors nor grand jurors, through the indictment, described the content of the messages and images Ebarb is accused of sharing via social media.
The statute under which Ebarb is charged — La. R.S. 14:81(A)(1) — involves someone committing a "lewd and lascivious act with the intent of arousing or gratifying the sexual desires of either person."
Ebarb teaches English at the high school and remained employed by the school system on Wednesday, a system spokeswoman said. She said they are researching their next steps in the wake of his arrest.
Earlier this year, Ebarb was named a finalist for the statewide H. Norman Saurage III Service Award, which recognizes teachers for community service, according to school system literature.
In the past, Ebarb was also involved with summer writing camps for incoming freshmen at Dutchtown High, school system fliers show.
He also worked for the St. John Primary/St. Theresa Middle Summer Camp in Gonzales for several years, no later than the summer of 2016, according to a message to parents at those schools released Wednesday evening by Dan Borné, communications secretary for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
"Before working for the SJP/STA Summer Camp, Mr. Ebarb successfully completed a state police background check, a requirement of the Diocese of Baton Rouge prior to being employed by the camp. There is no record of any questionable behavior, either while he was employed or after he was employed, by the SJP/STA Summer Camp," the message says.
He "also served for several years as a lector and Eucharistic minister at Christ the King Parish in Baton Rouge," Borné said. Ebarb was removed from those ministries when the pastor was made aware that ebarb was on administrative leave from Dutchtown High School and was being investigated for alleged misconduct.
"There have been no allegations of misconduct by Mr. Ebarb while he served in these roles at Christ the King," Borné said.
Ascension sheriff's deputies received a complaint Oct. 18 about Ebarb's sharing of images and messages with students. Detectives found after "an extensive investigation" that Ebarb "was engaged in the sharing of inappropriate messages and photographs with multiple students," Ascension prosecutors said in a statement.
Detectives did not seek an arrest warrant after their investigation but turned over evidence and statements to the 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors presented the case to grand jurors on Tuesday.
“Whenever there is suspected inappropriate interactions between an employee and a student, we report it to law enforcement, as required, and conduct an internal investigation," Schools Superintendent David Alexander said in a statement issued by prosecutors. "We are committed to the safety of our students and expect all staff to adhere to the highest ethical practices and conduct.”
When asked about Ebarb's status with the school system, Jackie Tisdell, schools spokeswoman, said the system "will be working with our legal team to follow appropriate policy and law on next steps."
Ebarb, of 10298 W. Winston Ave., Baton Rouge, remained in Ascension Parish Prison midday Wednesday, awaiting the setting of bail, online jail records show.