Tales from Wasilla: Three Lessons from Nighswonger


Lukis Nighswonger appears in court via video for his arraignment on charges of sexual abuse of a minor Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 in Palmer. Nighswonger was a teacher at Iditarod Elementary School and is accused of abusing students there. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Lukis Nighswonger appears in court via video for his arraignment on charges of sexual abuse of a minor Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 in Palmer. Nighswonger was a teacher at Iditarod Elementary School and is accused of abusing students there. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

WC gas written about accused pedophile Lukis Nighswonger before, and the Wasilla Police Department’s massive error in failing to report allegations of sexual abuse to the Mat-Su School District.

But there are other lessons to be drawn from the sordid business, if the facts alleged in recent civil complaint are proven, and some of them are likely to cost the Borough citizens a serious chunk of change.1

One of the new allegations is that Nighswonger should never have been hired, and that it was a failure to the Mat-Su School District to perform due diligence that put him in a place where he could sexually abuse kids. It’s alleged that Nighswonger was fired from an earlier job, while still in college, for improper sexual conduct. WC strongly suspects that employment didn’t appear on Nighswonger’s resumé, for the obvious reasons. And it is very difficult for an inquiring employer to discover employment during college. WC doesn’t attach much blame to the school district’s H.R. folks for not looking into a job not listed on a resumé, especially where the omission didn’t create an employment “gap.”

But the unnamed teacher who received a parent’s report of sexual abuse of a minor had an absolute duty under Alaska law to forward the report to her supervisor. The allegation is that the teacher took it upon himself or herself to serve as a preliminary screener, protecting Nighswonger based on his perceived reputation rather than responding to the child’s complaint. The duty to report is mandatory. The failure to report is a Class A misdemeanor. Yes, your fellow teachers are your colleagues. Yes, a mistaken report can damage a teacher’s career. But the Alaska Legislature has taken the decision to report or not report out of district employees’ hands.

More, teachers are taught these things and re-taught these things each year. And it’s not something you are likely to forget.

Then there is the administrator – almost certainly the elementary school principal – who also received a report and likewise failed to act. The school administrator’s duty was to report the possibility to the Department of Health & Social Services. That doesn’t seem to have happened either. There’s hearsay that the administrator has been suspended from a subsequent position in Juneau.

If proven, these allegations establish that it wasn’t just the Wasilla Police Department that failed the children at Iditarod Elementary. Teachers and administrators also appear to have failed to perform their legal duties – their mandatory legal duties – as well.

It’s alleged, in the inevitable civil complaints, that there were signs posted at Iditarod Elementary proclaiming, “Children Are … BELIEVABLE, trust them” and “Children Are … VULNERABLE, protect them.” A nice idea, but an absolute failure to execute. Mat-Su, as well as the local police, have to do better.

 


  1. WC notes that the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the civil suits are commenting about their cases in the media. Those comments risk a disservice to their clients: at best, they make it harder to find a fair jury in the community; at worst they will result in a change of venue, with case tried in Anchorage. 
Advertisements

One thought on “Tales from Wasilla: Three Lessons from Nighswonger

  1. As the mother of two, albeit in Berkeley CA, I find this tale terrifying….

    Berkeley has its own history of failed action, not due to teachers sexually harassing students, but due to students being sexually harassed by thir peers. In the fourth grade, my younger child had a classmate who called himself the “assgrabber”, and who liked to chase other children (male and female and everything in between) and grab their asses. The principal, when asked, said: “it’s not that bad” or “it was a mere pat on the bottom”;

    Awfulness… we are still affected by it, two years later…

    N

Comments are closed.