Colleagues failed to act on Nighswonger abuse, suit claims
The family of a boy allegedly abused by former Mat-Su Borough School District teacher Lukis Nighswonger is suing the district, alleging staff failed to quickly notify authorities as required by state law.
Nighswonger, 36, is being held on $1 million bail in the sexual abuse of what prosecutors say has now expanded to eight children. The former Iditarod Elementary School teacher allegedly told investigators he was a “pedophile,” with one of the victims in the case coming forward in October and urging children to “tell someone” if they’ve been abused.
District spokespersons weren’t immediately available Wednesday afternoon to comment on the civil suit.
According to the suit, filed Tuesday by the Angstman Law Office and attorney Gregory S. Parvin, Nighswonger was the 8-year-old victim’s classroom teacher at Iditarod Elementary during the 2015-2016 school year, as well as his basketball and track coach. During that year, the child made “disturbing reports to [his mother] about Nighswonger, including [his] disclosure that Nighswonger was touching his legs and causing [him] to feel ‘weird.’”
State law requires that medical staff and teachers report signs of child abuse to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services within 24 hours. The child’s mother contacted another teacher at Iditarod Elementary, whom she expected “would know what to do about [the child’s] disturbing reports about Nighswonger’s touching and advise her how to proceed."
Instead, the suit claims, the teacher was “dismissive, telling [the mother] there was no way Nighswonger would behave inappropriately towards children, including her son, [and that her] concerns were unfounded, and the teacher vouched for Nighswonger as a popular and much-loved teacher.”
“One thing [the mother] noticed but did not immediately make sense of, was that [the child] would get very upset if he was unable to find his belt as he was getting ready for school,” the suit read. “[He] seemed only comfortable going to school if his pants were secured by a belt around his waist. Over months [his] ‘acting out’ escalated whenever contact with Nighswonger was imminent.”
The mother then met with an unidentified school administrator at Iditarod Elementary, again reporting her concerns about Nighswonger and asking that her son be placed in another teacher’s class.
“The school administrator was dismissive of [the child’s] complaint and denied [the mother’s] request to move her son to a different teacher’s classroom,” the suit read. “The school administrator presumed to tell [the mother] there was no reason to move her son to a different class because her son’s complaint had no basis in fact. The school administrator made this statement based on no investigation and during the same conversation in which [the mother] was present to report her concerns. Like the fellow teacher, the school administrator vouched for Nighswonger as someone who would not pose a risk to children, including [the mother’s] son.”
Neither the teacher nor administrator contacted by the mother attempted to contact appropriate authorities, according to the suit, each acting as a “gatekeeper” for her reports.
“As a result of the breach of their duties to immediately report to the Department of Health and Social Services, each of the school’s employees failed to safeguard a vulnerable child,” the suit read. “[In addition,] they shielded Nighswonger from investigation by the Department and enabled Nighswonger to further distress [the child] and have the opportunity to continue to abuse him and possibly other elementary-school children.”
The suit seeks damages from the district in an amount to be determined by a jury, as well as court costs and “such other relief as this court deems just and equitable.”
Daniella Rivera contributed information to this story.
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