Washougal teacher accused of touching students resigns

By Justin Runquist, Columbian small cities reporter

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A Washougal High School math teacher with an alleged history of inappropriately touching students plans to step down at the end of the school year.

Jay Jenkins, 52, announced his resignation at a Washougal School Board meeting earlier this month. The decision came less than three months after three female students complained on Feb. 21 to administrators that Jenkins had inappropriately touched them during class time.

Portland attorney Margaret Olney, who represents Jenkins, said he isn't speaking with the media, but she provided a prepared statement from him instead.

"I had already been thinking of leaving the classroom to pursue other endeavors, since I have been teaching and coaching for over 30 years," Jenkins' statement read. "I chose to leave now because of the claims made against me. While I steadfastly deny any intentional wrongdoing, my students and family have always been my highest priority, and I want to limit the stress and distraction for all involved."

Each of the three students who complained about Jenkins accused him of touching their shoulders and backs and gently rocking them. One said Jenkins wrapped his arm around her waist and touched her hip, according to school district records.

The girls said most of Jenkins' alleged touching involved girls, but others said he touched boys, as well, according to a district investigation into the allegations. Some students said they weren't bothered by the touching.

One girl said she dropped Jenkins' class to get away from the touching, and other students said they felt uncomfortable around him. The district put Jenkins on paid administrative leave on Feb. 24, the day the investigation began.

Soon after, the district allowed him to return, concluding that the touching was not sexual in nature. Washougal High School Principal Aaron Hansen gave Jenkins a written reprimand March 4, saying his behavior created a hostile educational environment.

Jenkins filed a grievance three days later, contending that the letter violated the district's collective bargaining agreement. It wasn't the first time he'd fought back against a written reprimand about allegedly crossing professional boundaries.

Six years ago, the district investigated Jenkins after a student reported witnessing him touch another student's back in class and several female students said he'd touched them and made them feel uncomfortable. Jenkins received a reprimand soon after, but he filed a grievance appealing it and had it removed from his personnel file.

The district warned Jenkins again in the 2011-12 school year not to touch students. And last year, he was investigated and reprimanded once more for hiring a female student to work in his private home business, and giving her gifts and rides in his vehicle.

Dawn Tarzian, the superintendent of the Washougal School District, reported Jenkins to the police last year after learning that Jenkins may have been driving a female student when he crashed his vehicle on state Highway 14. Jenkins allegedly told her to get out and flee the scene so they wouldn't be spotted together.

A police officer found the student walking along the side of the highway away from the crash, according to police records. She identified herself as Jenkins' employee.

Last month, one of the girls who complained about Jenkins in February filed a tort claim against him, seeking $50,000 in damages for counseling costs and emotional trauma. The claim is pending but the two sides should come to a resolution soon, said Vancouver attorney Josephine Townsend, who represents two of the three girls who complained about Jenkins in February.

"Jay Jenkins had repeated complaints about his touching behavior of girls and last year, when he crashed his car, and kicked a student out — because he could not be caught with her in the car — should have been the last straw and he should have been fired," Townsend said in an email to The Columbian. "We are relieved that Mr. Jenkins will not be able to touch any more students."