ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — A longtime Wasilla elementary school teacher is under arrest, accused of sexually abusing two students and a third child on school property, in incidents spanning a period of six years.
A concerned parent's report to the principal of Iditarod Elementary School on Sept. 21 lead to immediate action. Fourth grade teacher Lukis Nighswonger was placed on immediate administrative leave. By the next business day, Wasilla Police were involved, swiftly moving to arrest and file charges against Nighswonger following a series of interviews.
Parents, who at first were in disbelief that the popular teacher could have committed the accused acts now question why nothing appears to have come from the first two allegations, at least not within the Mat-Su School District.
They're angry because had something been done about a report first made in 2012 to Wasilla Police, perhaps two subsequent incidents -- alleged to have occurred in 2013 and 2014 -- might have been prevented.
Here's what's known.
In 2012, the Wasilla Police Department received a report about alleged sexual abuse of one of Nighswonger's students. The boy would have been nine when the conduct occurred, in 2008. The boy told police the teacher did a lot of pinching and tickling of students, and that he'd seen the teacher put his hands up a girl's blouse and down another boy's pants. The boy also indicated Nighswonger had touched the boy's penis 4-5 times while in the classroom.
Citing insufficient evidence after an investigation, Wasilla Police did not file charges. Because no charges were filed, it did not notify Nighswonger's employer — the Mat-Su School District.
"When allegations of crime, regardless of statute, do not move to the stage of investigation where charges are brought before the court, we do not advise any employer," said Amanda Graham, Public Information Officer for the Wasilla Police Department.
The Mat-Su School District becomes aware of a report of harm, alleging inappropriate conduct by Mr. Nighswonger. Also in January 2018, a report is made to the Office of Children's Services. It appears that these two reports refer to an incident that occurred in 2013, when the victim, a family friend who often stopped to visit with Nighswonger at school, would have been 14 years old.
An OCS report, described in charging documents by the Wasilla Police Department, states that the victim reported that Mr. Nighswonger would sit close to her, rub the inside seam of her pants, working up to her vaginal area.
In an interview last week, school district superintendent Monica Goyette said the school district did not receive as much detail as OCS about the incident.
The school district did investigate the allegations, but finding no criminal activity, did not advance the report to law enforcement.
Goyette said the district has a protocol it follows when reports of harm are made. "We assign an investigator to it. If we believe there are criminal acts, we forward those immediately on to the police department. If we feel that harm has been done to a child, we also make a report to the office of children's services," Goyette said.
The Office of Children's Service was not immediately able to answer questions about the situation Monday, but in an email OCS Director Christy Lawton said "reports of alleged abuse to a child by a teacher or child care worker or other type of professional, with whom the child doesn't reside with, would be considered law enforcement jurisdiction and the report would be forwarded automatically to the appropriate officials who would then make their own determination of what actions if any they would take based on the information provided."
A parent alerts the school principal to a past incident. The student alleged that in 2014, when she was a fourth grade student in Mr. Nighswonger's class, that he put his hand down her pants during reading time.
The school district immediately placed Nighswonger on administrative leave. According to Wasilla police, a few days later in an interview with police Nighswonger admitted touching the student's vagina "skin to skin."
Nighswonger was arrested and charged with three counts of sexual abuse of a minor. He remains in custody.
The Wasilla Police Department has declined to say whether additional victims have come forward. That information will only become public if charges are filed, according to Graham.
The Mat-Su School District is in the process of an internal review.