Lawsuit over Nighswonger abuse amended to name principal, include additional alleged victims
A civil lawsuit filed against the Mat-Su Borough School District over alleged abuse by former teacher Lukis Nighswonger has been amended to include a former Iditarod Elementary School principal as a defendant, and claims by an additional two alleged victims.
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.
The Mat-Su Borough School District reported nearly 400 students were, at some point in time during a period of 14 years, assigned to the classroom of the teacher who told police he's been attracted to children as long as he can remember.
The initial lawsuit, filed by the Angstman Law Office and attorney Gregory S. Parvin, Nighswonger, included the allegations of one of Nighswonger's former students.
KTVA previously reported:
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.
The amended document now identifies the school administrator who denied the request to move the student out of Nighswonger's class as then principal Scott Nelson, and asserts that "no reasonable principal" in Nelson's position would have perceived the alleged behavior to be acceptable. It also accuses Nelson of shielding Nighswonger from investigation and further enabling the alleged abuse.
One of the additional complainants was also an 8-year-old student in Nighswonger's fourth-grade class when Nighswonger placed his hand on the boy's penis multiple times, according to the amended complaint.
The document alleges the boy was so traumatized by the abuse that he did not report the incidents until he reached puberty and was attending middle school during the 2011-2012 school year.
The boy reported the abuse to his stepmother and biological father, who contacted the Wasilla Police Department. A polygraph test was used to corroborate the child's statements, and a glass warrant was obtained so that investigators could record a phone call confrontation between the boy's parents and Nighswonger.
According to the suit, Nighswonger denied the abuse but considered the accusations to be "huge" and went into "panic mode."
Wasilla Police told the boy's family there was insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal case and the investigation was dropped.
However, once the boy's biological mother learned about the accusations and Nighswonger's continued access to children, she went to Iditarod Elementary, hoping to address the issue.
"On arrival at Iditarod Elementary, [the woman] was met by an elderly lady who was the long-time from desk/receptionist for the school. After multiple efforts to speak to the principal or staff, this school receptionist told [the woman] to leave the school premises and [the woman] was threatened with charges of trespass and harassment if she returned to Iditarod Elementary School," the document states.
The mother then went to the school district's headquarters where she was met with a similar response, according to the suit:
"MSBSD personnel somehow already knew who [the woman] was and why she was there. But instead of meeting with [the woman] and listening to her concerns, MSBSD representatives ordered [the woman] to immediately leave the premises. MSBSD also informed [the woman] that if she returned to Iditarod Elementary or MSSBD (sic) district offices and continued to allege Nighswonger had victimized her son and a female student, she would be charged with trespass and harassment, as well as being civilly sued for defamation."
“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 amended suit seeks punitive damages, judgement against the defendants 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.”
Wednesday a MSBSD spokesperson said Nelson is no longer employed by the district and declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.
RELATED NEWS COVERAGE: