Students, staff and community react to charges against former USD232 teacher Keil Hileman

Hileman was denied a public defender and a modification to his bond at the preliminary hearing Wednesday Nov. 2


By Margaret Mellott

Former social studies teacher Keil Hileman teaches a class April 25, 2017. Hileman’s classroom contains thousands of historical artifacts and objects he collected over his 30-year career in the district. His courses were based on the artifacts and their significance in history, and due to his departure from the district, those courses will no longer be offered at Mill Valley High School or Monticello Trails Middle School.

This story was updated Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 11:10 a.m. to include details regarding Hileman’s next court appearance.

Former USD232 teacher Keil Hileman appeared in court for a hearing via Zoom Wednesday, Feb. 8 where Hileman’s defense attorney Scott Gyllenborg asked for a two hour preliminary hearing. Judge Neil Foth approved this and the hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, May 17 at 1:30 p.m. Hileman has remained at home on house arrest since his initial arrest Oct. 26, 2022.

The hearing also clarified that Hileman’s current bond conditions will remain in place: he is allowed no contact with minors except his child and no contact with children except per civil court orders.

Mill Valley News first reported on Hileman’s arrest on charges of unlawful sexual relations with students last week. District officials say Hileman will not be returning to the district.

Once word spread about the charges, students, teachers and community members reacted with mixed emotions. 

Freshman Ian Weatherman, who took Hileman’s class in sixth grade, describes his initial shock regarding the news of Hileman’s alleged actions.

“At first I really didn’t believe it. I thought it was a rumor started by someone who got a bad grade in the class or was just trying to be funny and so they started a rumor,” Weatherman said. “I really didn’t believe it until my parents told me about it because they had heard about it and even then I didn’t fully believe it until after it was officially charged. It was kind of shocking, because he was definitely not the person that seems like that. He was always really nice and supportive. He would do tutoring opportunities before or after school, so he would always like help and support kids. I didn’t really think it was in his character.”

Junior Emmy Esser said the news was harder to take since Hileman was a well-loved and well-known teacher who inspired students.

“My initial reaction was to not believe it,” Esser said. “As a teacher I had for three years in a row, he really impacted my life. I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe in his class … Like any bad news it’s hard to believe that a teacher that everyone looked up to and trusted [could do this]. It just didn’t seem right. After a few days I finally understood the damage of the situation and realized how hard other students are being affected by it. It finally hit me one night and I got emotional.”

Remembering the personal connections Hileman created with his students made Esser particularly upset. 

“These emotions were influenced by the letter he wrote in the book he was in for the teacher nominations. After seeing several articles about his arrest I dug up the book and opened the first page to a long note that really touched my heart. My feelings are very mixed right now. Going about the situation I will never be able to think of him as the teacher who motivated me every day to do my best. When I hear that name I get disappointed,” Esser said.

Senior Ricky Kelley Padilla said he didn’t want to believe the news.

“I’ve heard the rumors. When I heard the news I wasn’t surprised, I was just disappointed,” Kelley Padilla said. “I was thinking ‘That’s a good man but he’s making bad decisions.’ Hileman once said you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Prior to Hileman’s arrest, Kelley Padilla, who first met Hileman in elementary school, held his teacher in the highest regard. 

“I saw him as a hero,” Kelley Padilla said. “He’s a very smart dude, a very funny guy. He taught the way he wanted to be taught, which is how a lot of other kids want to be taught and treated us like young adults because he was honest and blunt. He was just so open minded.”

It affects all of us in the community because even if you aren’t involved directly when something like this happens so close to home you realize it can happen anywhere.

— Tamalee Baker

Hileman was hired by USD232 in 1994 and worked at Monticello Trails Middle School for 28 years. His famed classroom was structured like a museum with thousands of artifacts Hileman collected over the years, including donations from the families of students, and used in the instruction of his classes. In addition to middle school offerings for sixth, seventh and eighth graders, he offered his Archeology and Artifacts class for both De Soto High School and Mill Valley High School students beginning in the 2009-2010 school year. Eventually the high school course was only opened to Mill Valley students due to the proximity of the school to Monticello Trails.  

In his high school classes, students have done a variety of projects including the creation and opening of a 9/11 time capsule and presentations on research. Hileman was also known for taking middle and high school students on an annual Labor Day trip to Washington D.C.

Currently, MTMS has a long-term sub to teach the classes previously taught by Hileman. District director of curriculum and instruction Dr. Joe Kelly is now in charge of compiling the lessons for the archaeology class based on the information on Hileman’s Canvas page and Kelly’s own selections.

Although students currently enrolled in the semester archaeology course will finish the curriculum, students who had selected the course for second semester may not be able to take it. Looking to the future, Holder sees potential for another archaeology class in the curriculum though the details are still being worked out. 

“It probably isn’t offered anywhere else like Mr. Hileman offered it with all the artifacts and such, but there is an archaeology course,” Holder said. “So, I don’t know for sure what’s going to happen. I don’t know if that’s going to be offered and we’re just going to have somebody else teach it. 

Hileman’s Museum Connections course was one of the most highly sought out classes by middle schoolers at Monticello Trails. Kelley Padilla took the classes in seventh and eighth grade upon recommendation from other students.

“I heard from other people that [Hileman was] cool and that his classes were fun,” Kelley Padilla said. “[Archeology and Artifacts] was an entertaining class. He would tell jokes [in class], he would teach us in a way that other teachers wouldn’t where it wasn’t pen and paper or note-taking. He just talked to us and would bring in artifacts and things from the past and he’d pass them around the class and then tell stories about what those artifacts were. Occasionally he would allow us to dig in sand and look for some buried treasure.”

Veteran teachers like social studies teacher Chris McAfee, who has known Hileman for 26 years, have had to deal with their own emotions about the accusations as well as helping their students navigate the news. 

“I really don’t know any other words to use, but to say I was shocked. I think as a person in this profession, this type of news brings about shock but also a variety of feelings that range from confusion, disgust, concern for the victims and co-workers and anger,” McAfee said. “Those emotions are all present in varying degrees and at different levels. Besides the obvious, one of the hardest things to make sense of is understanding how this happens with someone that so carefully created their professional identity.”

McAfee sympathized with the victims relating to Hileman’s case. 

“I think it is easy for all of us to focus on Hileman, but I hope that we do not lose sight of the victims in this instance and are reminded that many people are victims of sexual abuse and assault. I have heard that students are making jokes about and trying to defend him,” McAfee said. “This event is not only bad for these victims, but can be a trigger for people who have experienced any type of abuse, sexual assault, sexual abuse, etc. It bothers me deeply that students are joking around about it. It is no wonder that victims do not want to come forward because their word is not accepted, they are ridiculed, the abuser is defended.”

Parents of students at Mill Valley and MT have also had a difficult time helping their children deal with the allegations. Tamalee Baker, whose four kids have all had Hileman as their teacher at some point, was stunned when she was informed of his arrest.

“I was shocked when the initial news was released about Hileman’s arrest. I was really hoping it was just a rumor,” Baker said. “My initial feelings about Hileman were not really influenced by others. Hileman was all four of my kids’ favorite teacher at some point, so when you hear news like that you just really hope isn’t true.”

Baker felt like the whole situation was saddening and felt empathy for those who came forward.

 Overall it made my family and I very sad, especially for the students that came forward and for his family, but sad for everyone,” Baker said. “It affects all of us in the community because even if you aren’t involved directly when something like this happens so close to home you realize it can happen anywhere. The whole situation is just heartbreaking.”

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