Lincoln High teacher charged with rape of students

Staff writerFebruary 7, 2014 


Lincoln High School teacher Meredith Claire Powell walks into Pierce County Superior Court for her arraignment for two counts of rape of a child in the third degree on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. Powell was released on personal recognizance to her mother in Sequim.

LUI KIT WONG — Staff photographer Buy Photo

The court papers contain allegations of naked bathtub photos, suggestive text messages and furtive kisses -- along with sexual acts in a locked classroom.

Those are among the accusations leveled against Meredith Powell, a 24-year-old Lincoln math teacher who pleaded not guilty Friday to two counts of third-degree child rape and one count of communication with a minor for immoral purposes.

Powell was charged as a result of alleged incidents that took place with three male students who attend the Tacoma school.

Tacoma police began investigating this week after learning that Powell wrote a letter to one boy’s girlfriend apologizing for “promiscuous” and “unprofessional” drunken text messages she exchanged with one of the boys.

The teens were ages 15 to 17 when the incidents occurred last month, according to court documents.

Powell, who began teaching in Tacoma in 2012, was placed on paid leave Wednesday and arrested Thursday. The school district took her off the payroll and placed her on unpaid leave following her arrest.

At her arraignment Friday, Powell was ordered released without bail. Her trial was set for April 24. She will stay with her mother in Sequim, where she grew up and attended high school.

Outside the courtroom, Powell’s attorney Wayne Fricke described his client, who has no criminal background, as “frightened, very young, confused.” He said releasing her to her mother’s home was appropriate. Powell was also ordered to have no contact with minors except her biological siblings.

A handful of supporters were in the courtroom Friday, and they applauded when terms of Powell’s release were announced. Other supporters, most of whom appeared to be students, voiced their support for Powell on Facebook and Twitter.

Detectives interviewed the three boys, who all said they’d exchanged cell phone numbers with Powell prior to the alleged inappropriate conduct.

Charging documents give this account, based on detectives’ interviews with Powell and the students:

Powell got drunk one night in January and received a text message from a former student saying he was “turned on thinking about her.” She responded that “he was hot, too.” They exchanged other texts and at some point she sent him her home address; he told her he had a girlfriend.

Documents don’t indicate any physical sexual contact between Powell and that boy.

After the boy’s girlfriend grew suspicious about why he was going to Powell’s classroom every day, the boy told her about Powell. The teacher wrote the girlfriend an apology letter on Monday of this week.

The same night she was drunk, Powell allegedly exchanged inappropriate text messages with the two other boys. She later met with the second boy in her classroom, where they kissed and fondled each other, according to the charging papers.

The third boy, who was one of Powell’s students at the time, told police they also kissed and fondled each other in Powell’s classroom and that she performed oral sex on him. He said she also sent him pictures of her naked in a bathtub.

In her statement to detectives, Powell acknowledged performing oral sex on the boy and said she believes she sent him photographs showing her in the bathtub and in bed in a dark room. She also acknowledged fondling behavior with the second boy, and said her actions with both boys were wrong.

When asked by detectives what she would say to the parents of the boys, Powell allegedly said she would apologize.

Tacoma Public Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel said the school district has been in contact with the boys’ families. He said the district is working to develop support plans for each of the students.

Shannon McMinimee, the school district’s attorney, confirmed that Powell had completed required school district training that warns employees about what constitutes risky behavior with students, including suggestive text messages and social media posts or spending time alone behind closed doors with them.

Last week, McMinimee said, reminders about the school district’s policies, as well as copies of the policies, were sent to all employees.

She also said that administrators at Lincoln spoke to Powell when she was hired about her social media presence. Nevertheless, Powell wrote a blog, “Math. Mermaids. Meow,” in which she sometimes mentioned students.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635

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