After a nearly six-week investigation, the Citrus County School District found probable cause to discipline a former Crystal River Middle School teacher who came under fire for her comments on social media and on a podcast she hosted — but not necessarily for what she said.
What form that discipline may have taken will remain unknown, as Dayanna Volitich’s resignation March 22 before the investigation’s conclusion pre-empted any punishment the district might have imposed. She still may face state sanctions against her teaching license, pending a Department of Education review of the investigation.
The investigation file, released Wednesday following a mandatory 10-day period required to allow the subject to respond, revealed that a formal investigation was opened March 2 after administrators received an email from a Huffington Post reporter alleging that Volitich hosted a podcast called “Unapologetic” under a pseudonym, Tiana Dalichov, in which she expressed white-nationalist beliefs and stated she inserted her political views into her instruction.
The district’s investigation, however, focused on something else: Whether Volitich violated “professional practices by being deceptive in changing her teaching practices when administration enters her classroom and by encouraging her students to go along with the deception.”
In the podcast, which Volitich later admitted hosting, she states to a guest that she is “getting a little bit more underhanded as to how, you know, I deal with it if students ask questions about a particular topic,” such as a government shutdown, ISIS, Saudi Arabia or North Korea.
The reporter’s accusations weren’t the first time concerns were raised about Volitich.
According to the investigation, a parent contacted an administrator in late August 2017, concerned Volitich “may be inserting political bias into her classroom lessons,” but offered no specific comments or examples. The parent also requested students not be questioned about their concerns.
CRMS Principle Inge Frederick subsequently discussed the matter with Volitich, who told Frederick “she did not insert bias into the classroom” when reminded of the “expectation” that teachers not share political opinions with students.
In October, an administrator received an anonymous email alleging that Volitich had a Twitter account under the name Tiana Dalichov, and that “she had things calling for White America and saying slavery was fabricated.”
In response, CRMS administrators and district staff researched the claims made in the email, interviewed numerous students from Volitich’s classes, and increased the number of unannounced visits by administrators to her classroom. During this first, informal investigation, “no students ... expressed any concerns other than that Ms. Volitich was boring,” and no complaints were received from staff or parents, according to the report.
No formal complaint was issued as a result of the informal investigation, but administrators continued to monitor social media accounts under Dalichov’s name and to perform brief, unannounced observations of her teaching, known as walkthroughs.
No further complaints were received until the Huffington Post reporter’s email March 1, which was the first time administrators were made aware of the podcast “Unapologetic,” which Volitich hosted under the name Tiana Dalichov. They were also, according to the report, unaware of “any other material” posted by her under either name “that expressed the ideas in the podcast or that she inserted these beliefs into her teaching.” Volitich was notified of the investigation and removed from the classroom March 2, and reassigned to the district office.
When she was notified of the investigation, Volitich admitted that she “participated in social media and in a podcast under a pseudonym,” but declined to provide the name, according to the report.
Over the course of the informal and formal investigations, a total of 16 students were interviewed. One student said that Volitich would “tell them to change the topic” if an administrator entered the room.
One administrator found videos on the internet called “On the Write,” featuring Tiana Dalichov and another host using the pseudonym Bri Faucheux, according to the report, and “in some of these interviews Tiana Dalichov spoke about being deceptive toward her administration when they would come into her classroom.”
Few students reported being instructed by Volitich to change a topic or stop talking about something when an administrator entered. One recalled that “at the beginning of the year she said if an admin was to come in she might act a little different but never really changed when they came in.” Another said, “I do think I learned a lot in her class but I am not sure what is the facts and what is her beliefs.”
A teacher aide who spent time in Volitich’s classroom working with small groups of students accused Volitich of seating black students together in a discriminatory way, of telling students she would be voting for Donald Trump in the then-upcoming presidential election, and of making statements the aide perceived as racist in a one-on-one conversation between the two.
In a written response to the investigation, Volitich vehemently denied both deceiving administrators during observations and imparting her opinions to students. A lawyer for Volitich had not returned requests for comment as of early evening Wednesday.
“As part of my class, students often debate one another, engaging in civil conversations about diverse, often abstract topics, using facts, statistics, and references from text to back up their positions. At times, discussions would die out, or students would be unsure how to formulate a response to a particular question I posed to them,” her statement reads. “At those times, I would step in to model the exercise, stating opinions that students may have misconstrued as my own, based on the political nature of the class.”
She also denied the aide’s allegations. “Everything she claimed is mere hearsay, a terrible warping of the truth designed to smear my character,” Volitich wrote.
“Most of the students’ testimonies support the assertion laid out in my press release at the beginning of March: ‘None of the statements released about my being a white nationalist or white supremacist have any truth to them, nor are my political beliefs injected into my teaching of social studies curriculum.’”