Woodland principal denies abusing student

Documents say Mark Houk intimidated staff, students

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KELSO — Woodland Primary School Principal Mark Houk has pleaded not guilty to allegations of child abuse, but police interviews reveal a history of alleged intimidation and aggression toward students and school staff, according to a report by Woodland police.

Houk faces three counts of fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor. Police arrested Houk on April 17, and Cowlitz County District Court Judge David Koss has scheduled a July 21 jury trial.

Houk and his attorney declined to answer questions following his arraignment Tuesday.

Police initially responded to a child abuse complaint at the school on March 6, according to the report compiled by the Woodland Police Department. Information filed with Houk’s citation indicates the charges stem from three confrontations in October, January and February.

During a Feb. 26 confrontation, Houk allegedly grabbed a 9-year-old special-needs student “sharply” by the upper arms and shoulders, shoved him into a cabinet and flung his glasses across the room. Houk allegedly restrained the student on the floor for more than 23 minutes during the January confrontation and did the same for more than 13 minutes in October.

According to court documents, those confrontations involved a single student and mostly occurred in Woodland Primary School’s “reset room,” where disruptive students are sometimes sent for a few minutes of quiet to help them settle down.

However, the full 82-page police report contains allegations that Houk held a Woodland Primary School student upside down and shook her “rapidly for a few seconds” after she had acted out in 2003 or 2004. In 2007, Houk reportedly grabbed a student in the lunchroom, Woodland Superintendent Michael Green told police during the investigation. According to the police report, Green was unaware of any other previous discipline problems involving Houk.

The report does not note whether Houk was ever disciplined by the school district. Green did not immediately return phone calls for comment Tuesday.

The report says Houk allegedly asked school district personnel to “falsify” information on incident reports about his physical discipline of students. Woodland Primary School’s reset room coordinator, Sandra Owens, said Houk ordered her not to reveal in her incident reports the fact that he had “screamed at students and physically restrained them.” Owens said that since Houk was her supervisor, “she was afraid not to follow his orders,” according to the police report.

Owens and another witness recalled Houk “screaming” at and “physically manipulating and assaulting” the 9-year-old student involved in the Feb. 26 incident — the one that led to assault charges against Houk.

However, Owens’ incident report makes no mention of any physical restraint or assault, according to the police report. Her report notes that Houk phoned the student’s mother, but in an interview with police, the mother said she had never received notice that school officials had physically restrained or disciplined her son.

Teachers interviewed in the investigation reported being “berated” and “intimidated” by Houk, according to the police report. One said she had to see a “medical professional” because of Houk’s “treatment” of her, and she opted to take a voluntary layoff because of stress caused by Houk. She said Houk had previously yelled at her.

After the Feb. 26 confrontation, Houk allegedly approached teachers talking about the incident in a hallway, according to a witness account. Houk told the teachers that the student “needed a taste of his own medicine … needed to know how it feels to be on the other end.”

The conversation ended when Houk said, “This is (expletive),” according to the police report, and ordered a teacher not to ask him more questions.