Coral Reef High teacher charged with having ‘romantic’ relationship with student, cops say

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A Coral Reef Senior High School teacher who authorities say has been involved in a “romantic” and sexual relationship with an underage student has been arrested and fired from the school.

Social studies teacher Rafael Birriel, 39, was arrested Monday by Miami-Dade police and charged with one count each of offenses against students by authority figures and computer services certain uses prohibited.

Birriel had worked for Miami-Dade Public Schools for 13 years and had no prior history in his personnel file, Miami-Dade Schools said. He did not have any disciplinary actions on his teaching license, according to Florida Department of Education records.

The police investigation into Birriel began on March 30, 2020, when an allegation was made against him about being involved in a “romantic” relationship with one of his female students, an arrest report read.

After speaking with the student, police learned the two were in a relationship for about a year, which had become physical at least once. The student told police they would mostly talk over Discord, a messaging application.

Conversations obtained by police showed Birriel would try to persuade her to send erotic, nude and “racy” photos of her to him. He also would describe the sexual things he would do to her, police wrote in the report.

In one conversation, the two talked about an incident that happened at the school. Police said Birriel had kissed the student and grabbed her over her clothes while at Coral Reef.

“This is a serious matter that is not taken lightly,” Miami-Dade Schools said in a statement. “As soon as the allegations were reported, the employee was removed from the school and M-DSPD [Miami-Dade Schools Police Department] initiated an investigation. As a result of the arrest, the individual’s employment will be terminated and he will be prevented from seeking future work with the District.”

Coral Reef Principal Nicole Berge-MacInnes emailed parents informing them of the investigation into “inappropriate behavior involving a student.”

Birriel was not mentioned in the email, but Berge-MacInnes wrote that the teacher was immediately reassigned away from the school and MDCPS would be terminating the teacher.

“We want to assure you that Coral Reef Senior High School continues to be a safe place for students,” Berge-MacInnes wrote in the email. “We will always take every precaution to safeguard the children in our care.”