Ex-students accuse Orting teacher of sexual abuse. District investigating

Two women have publicly accused an Orting High School teacher of sexual abuse.

One of the women posted on Facebook June 14 that the teacher inappropriately touched her in 2006 and 2007, while she was a student at the school.

The other woman later posted in the comments of the post that the teacher sexually abused her in 2007 also, about two years after she graduated.

The woman who said she was abused as a student, Megan Hughes, wrote in her Facebook post that she reported the abuse to the school last year, and that she is now reporting it publicly “in the off chance it reaches someone who’s experienced the same thing.”

She said the man, who has not been charged with a crime, is still teaching at Orting High School.

Superintendent Marci Shepard confirmed Wednesday that the district has reopened an investigation into Hughes’ allegations and placed the teacher on administrative leave.

“However, because it’s an active investigation and a personnel matter, we cannot provide details,” she said in a statement.

District officials did not respond to questions about how long the teacher has been employed with the district or whether this is the first time he’s been placed on leave.

The teacher’s base annual pay was $65,910 for the 2017-2018 school year, according to public records.

Two letters about the investigation have gone out to parents this week.

On Monday, the district sent letters home saying student safety is their top priority and they met with an attorney and outside investigator after learning of the sexual abuse accusations.

The district was unable to figure out what happened 12 years ago and police told them the statute of limitations had run out, prompting the district to close the case.

On Tuesday, another letter went home saying the investigation had been reopened “due to new information.”

It was not immediately clear what the new information was.

“Although we have a legal obligation to protect the identity of those involved and cannot share details about active investigations or personnel actions, I assure we take every report seriously,” Shepard wrote. “This has been a difficult time for our close-knit community and we are committed to healing together so we can best serve our students.”

Hughes’ Facebook post June 14, which was widely circulated in the city of roughly 8,000, said she was not the only victim, but that it was not her place to speak on behalf of other women.

The post gave this account of her interactions with the district:

“After I finally reported it, the school enlisted the help of a 3rd party investigator to look into the allegations I made,” Hughes wrote. “I provided them with information of another victim and the names of people I’d told about what happened to me so they could verify the timeline and see that my story had never changed. I provided them with notes from therapy sessions where I talked about the teacher. They never called the other victim. They never called the witnesses.”

Hughes went on to say: “Today (June 14) I got the call that they weren’t able to find sufficient evidence of misconduct. How could you come to that conclusion when you didn’t reach out to witnesses or other victims?”

Hughes wrote that there seemed to be a pattern of inappropriate behavior during the past 15 or more years, which: “shows that school districts would rather protect their faculty members than their students.”

She also posted documents to support her account of what happened.

“Since I know this teacher has an amazing reputation and is loved by pretty much everybody in town, I’m posting some personal emails and therapy notes to highlight what happened to me and my interactions with the school to prove I’ve tried to do my part,” she wrote.

Hughes ended the post with: “Parents, please talk to your daughters. Ask them about their male teachers and if they’ve ever felt uncomfortable at school. I can’t do anything to help so I’m withholding his name because I don’t want be flooded with the ‘BUT HE’D NEVER DO THAT’ canned responses. I’m sorry I didn’t do the right thing earlier.”

Her post had more than 550 comments as of Wednesday afternoon. Many thanked her for coming forward.

One was from Sheridan Mack, who also accused the teacher of sexual abuse.

She reported to police that in 2007, two years after she graduated, he inappropriately touched her in a portable building at the school.

She made the report to police in 2010, and the News Tribune obtained a copy earlier this year via a public records request, after speaking with Mack about the allegations.

“After I graduated he urged me to stay in touch and return to visit,” she wrote in the police report.

He invited her to visit on a particular day, and when she arrived the blinds of the portable were closed, and he locked the door behind her, she told police.

She reported that he proceeded to touch her inappropriately and make sexual advances. She told him to stop, said she had to go, and threatened to scream, at which point she was able to leave, the report said.

“I ran out of his portable in tears and I have never returned to Orting High School,” she wrote in 2010. “... I have now become a mandated reporter as I am in school to become a teacher. I now am obligated by law to report this and don’t want this incident to happen to any other students or former students.”

Officers spoke with the teacher, who said: “This is not a school issue since she is over age,” according to the police report.

The police report says information from that conversation was given to the then-superintendent, and that the city prosecutor determined the statute of limitations had expired in the case.

Mack told The News Tribune earlier this year: “I’ll be really interested to find out what the school district genuinely did during that period of time when they investigated him. I don’t think they actively did anything to look for anyone (with information), though. Because Megan would have been a great person to come forward. ... If she had come forward during that time then it would have confirmed that he’s not someone who should be working with girls in a position of authority.”

Hughes clarified after this article was first published: “The district did reach out to me in 2010 and asked if I had experienced sexual abuse from this teacher. I said yes and gave a statement to a board member. I gave an account of my abuse directly to a board member and he remained employed.”

Talking about her decision to come forward, Mack said she thinks it’s her responsibility now as a teacher to protect students, even if they’re not students that she teaches.

Asked about Orting, she said: “I think it’s that classic American small town. And I think people in small towns like to think that nothing bad happens in their small town.”

Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.