Washougal student files tort claim against school district

It says district failed to stop teacher's pattern of inappropriate touch

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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A Washougal High School student has filed a tort claim alleging the Washougal School District failed to protect her and other students from a math teacher with a history of inappropriately touching students.

The 18-year-old is seeking $50,000 in damages, including the cost of counseling and emotional trauma, said her Vancouver attorney, Josephine Townsend.

She was one of three female students who complained to high school administrators Feb. 21 that math teacher Jay Jenkins had inappropriately touched them during class time, according to school district documents requested by Townsend. She provided the documents to The Columbian.

Townsend said Jenkins was disciplined at least once in the past before the three girls came forward to complain. She said the school district was negligent in supervising him after the past discipline.

"This type of behavior should never be brushed under the rug or condoned," Townsend said.

School district Superintendent Dawn Tarzian said the school district takes such accusations "very seriously."

"We do take action to protect students," she said.

She declined to comment specifically on the allegations because they involve student confidentiality issues.

The three girls accused Jenkins of resting his hands on their shoulders and back and gently rocking them. One of the students said Jenkins wrapped his arm around her waist and touched her hip, according to school district records. One girl withdrew from his class in order to avoid the touching. Others said they felt uncomfortable, and one said she stopped asking questions to avoid being touched, the school district's investigation showed.

The girls said that Jenkins touched mostly girls, but other witnesses said that he didn't discriminate between the sexes in that regard. Some students said the touching didn't bother them.

Jenkins was placed on paid administrative leave Feb. 24 while district officials investigated the allegations. Washougal High School principal Aaron Hansen gave Jenkins a written reprimand March 4, which said Jenkins' behavior showed "flagrant disregard" of professional standards and created a hostile educational environment through touching.

"Immediate change is required in your conduct, otherwise, additional discipline may occur, which could result in your termination," Hansen wrote in the March 4 letter.

An internal email shows that administrators did not terminate him because there was no proof that the touching was sexual in nature.

Hansen directed Jenkins to stop touching students, report any incident of touching to administrators and review professional boundaries training materials. School district records indicate he was to return to work March 5. However, Marian Young, the school district's human resources director, said she was not at liberty to confirm or deny whether Jenkins is back on the job.

School district records show that Jenkins filed a grievance March 7 alleging that the written reprimand violated the school district's collective bargaining agreement.

It's unclear whether that grievance has been resolved. But district records show that Jenkins has been successful in purging past discipline from his file.

In 2008, Jenkins was investigated after a student reported seeing him touch the back of another student during class. Six female students said that he touched them and that the touching made them feel uncomfortable, according to school district records. He allegedly touched one above the knee and another on the side of the leg and hip.

He received a written reprimand and was instructed to receive training about professional boundaries. However, the written discipline was removed from his file after he filed a grievance appealing it, according school district records.

He was warned again in 2011-12 not to touch students and that doing so likely was unprofessional conduct under state administrative code, school district records show.

He was investigated again in 2013 for hiring a female student to work in his private home business, giving her rides in his personal vehicle and giving her gifts, according to school district records. He received another letter of reprimand Nov. 6, 2013, alleging that the interaction with the student violated professional standards. He also appealed that discipline.

Jenkins' attorney, Grant Broer, did not immediately have a comment Tuesday on the allegations because he hadn't had time to consult with Jenkins.

The tort claim, filed Monday, places the school district on notice that a lawsuit will be filed within 60 days unless there is a settlement.