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Missed red flags kept predators in Clark County schools

Records show Evergreen, Battle Ground districts failed to protect students from abusive personnel

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:
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Sadie Pritchard Former associate principal at Evergreen High School awaiting trial on three counts of first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor
Sadie Pritchard Former associate principal at Evergreen High School awaiting trial on three counts of first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor Photo Gallery

Five years before her arrest, Evergreen Public Schools officials knew that an associate principal had been interacting with students in ways that “undoubtedly could be perceived as ‘grooming’ behavior.”

In 2013, Sadie Pritchard admitted to former human resources director Bruce Nashif that she was talking to students on her private cellphone, and giving them money and gift cards.

Today, Pritchard is awaiting trial on three counts of sexual misconduct with a minor. A police investigation concluded she had engaged in sex acts multiple times with a student at Evergreen High School, where she was an associate principal.

Pritchard is one of three recent Evergreen educators who exhibited warning signs of inappropriate relationships with students for months or even years before they were investigated. Since 2015, the district has responded to five allegations of sexual misconduct by educators involving students, more than any other school district in the county.

A Columbian review of disciplinary records from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, local law enforcement, and the Evergreen and Battle Ground school districts show school administrators in both districts repeatedly failed to protect students from predatory educators. Instead, they pursued a pattern of tolerating suspicious behavior, overlooking warning signs and, in one case, flouting state law.

5 Evergreen personnel investigated since 2013

Since 2013, five Evergreen staff members have been investigated for sexual misconduct involving students.

Sadie Pritchard

Sadie Pritchard, 42, was the associate principal at Evergreen High School until her May resignation stemming from accusations of having sex with a student. Pritchard is awaiting trial on three counts of first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor after police say she carried on a relationship with a student over the course of several months.

Police say Pritchard began following the alleged victim on Instagram in October 2017, and offered to help him with homework. The messages eventually turned into “flirtatious comments,” and the two began to exchange nude photographs. The victim also told police Pritchard gave him more than $1,000 over the course of several weeks — though he maintains it wasn’t in exchange for sex or to keep him from telling anyone.

Pritchard was placed on administrative leave with pay in May. She resigned a little more than a week later. She was arrested in June, and her trial is set to begin next month.

Mark Lugliani

Mark Lugliani, 60, is a former substitute teacher arrested and facing trial for charges stemming from allegedly locking a girl with a disability in a closet at Evergreen High School and then sexually assaulting her.

Lugliani allegedly assaulted the student on March 29, according to police records. He asked to meet her again on May 3. That’s when the student reported the abuse to a school counselor, records show. The district removed Lugliani from the substitute roster immediately on learning about the alleged assault.

Lugliani was also a teacher at the Battle Ground school district, where he was placed on administrative leave after grabbing and shouting at a student, and eventually removed from the approved substitute list for calling female students “honey” and “sweetheart.”

His trial is scheduled to begin in January.

Eric Smedsrud

Eric Smedsrud, 43, is a former band teacher at Mountain View High School who was fired after reportedly taking alcohol to a former student with whom he was in a romantic relationship.

Smedsrud was placed on administrative leave in December from Evergreen Public Schools. A subsequent investigation revealed he’d carried on an inappropriate relationship with a student for several months, and he was fired from the district in April 2016.

Smedsrud was never arrested or investigated on criminal charges. He surrendered his teaching certificate on Jan. 22, 2018. He continues to deny he ever crossed boundaries with the student while she was still enrolled at Mountain View High School, saying only that he made a mistake in starting a relationship with her shortly after she graduated.

Matthew Morasch

Matthew Morasch, 43, is a former Evergreen High School physics teacher who was convicted in 2017 of one count of voyeurism and two counts of attempted voyeurism. He tried to take photos up a 14-year-old girl’s dress in his class in 2015, as well as an unidentified woman in a Battle Ground Goodwill store around the same time. He’s currently appealing the conviction.

Records show that several students complained on June 15, 2015, that Morasch was sitting across from a student during the final lab exercise when they spotted him recording video underneath her dress. A student snapped a photo of Morasch and reported him to Principal Lisa Emmerich.

Morasch was placed on administrative leave that day, arrested on June 22, 2015, and then-Superintendent John Deeder reported the incident to the Office of Professional Practices on June 30, 2015.

Stephanie McCrea

Stephanie McCrea, a 39-year-old former Evergreen High School teacher, pleaded guilty to four counts of third-degree rape of a child and one count of tampering with a witness after having sex with a boy in her drama program. She’s serving a five-year sentence and is currently housed at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor.

Records show that on multiple occasions in December 2014 and January 2015, McCrea had sex with a 15-year-old at her home and at Evergreen High School. She also rehearsed with the student what he was to say if he was ever interviewed by law enforcement. The student’s mother reported to school officials that her son had exchanged more than 7,000 text messages with the drama teacher.

McCrea was placed on administrative leave on Jan. 9, 2015, and arrested on Jan. 27, 2015. Deeder reported the incident to the Office of Professional Practices on Jan. 30, 2015.

Educational leadership professor Charol Shakeshaft of Virginia Commonwealth University is a leading expert on educator sexual misconduct. After hearing the specifics of each of Evergreen’s alleged cases of sexual misconduct, she said she believes the district has a culture of “not paying attention.”

“They have to change to a culture that pays attention to the kids, pays attention to make sure kids are safe, and overreacts in the interest of protecting kids rather than underreacts to defend an adult,” Shakeshaft said.

Superintendent John Steach and new leaders in the human resources department have promised to do just that when it comes to educator misconduct. The district pledged that new training and stricter policies around teacher-student boundaries will keep students safer. The Columbian will explore those programs Monday in part two of this series.

“It is something I have zero patience for,” Steach said. “I will overreact if someone brings it to our attention. We’ll react immediately, and only after we’re confident that it’s safe will we put an employee back in. We want to err on the side of student safety.”

Holes in the safety net

Shakeshaft described a networking safety net that needs to exist in schools to keep children safe from predatory teachers: bystanders capable of recognizing warning signs and willing to report them; staff members who listen when students or parents report suspicious behavior; and administrators who are assertive in following up on reported misconduct.

On multiple occasions, holes in that safety net failed students at Evergreen Public Schools.

Pritchard’s case highlights missed opportunities for teachers to flag potentially inappropriate conduct for review, as well as gaps in record-keeping that raise questions about whether the district maintained checks on Pritchard’s behavior after she was reprimanded years ago.

In 2013, Nashif blamed then 36-year-old Pritchard’s actions on “a lack of professional judgment and inexperience,” rather than “any inappropriate or nefarious intention.”

“We believe that your intention in engaging in these behaviors was to assist at-risk students in their progress toward graduation and to use text messages, gift cards, money and other reward measures to facilitate this purpose,” Nashif wrote at the time in a disciplinary letter to Pritchard.

He went on to instruct Pritchard not to communicate with students using her private email, phone or text services. She was told to use district-issued devices to talk to students and families, which the district could monitor. He told her that any reward systems she developed to encourage students had to fall under the oversight of administrators.

But according to police records, the alleged victim in Pritchard’s current case first began communicating with the associate principal on Instagram in October 2017. Their conversations began with Pritchard offering to help the student with homework, then became flirtatious. Eventually, the two began to exchange nude photographs.

Pritchard allegedly began having sex with the teenager in December 2017.

The student’s allegations show Pritchard did not comply with Nashif’s previous mandates. What’s unclear is how well the district monitored Pritchard during those five years between Nashif’s directives and her arrest.

Pritchard told human resources director Jenae Gomes in June that she never “developed meetings” with her supervisor after the 2013 incident as ordered. Records also show she took an online, 29-minute sexual misconduct training following Nashif’s reprimand.

Nashif and Mike Meloy, Mountain View’s previous principal, have since retired, district spokeswoman Gail Spolar said, saying the district cannot determine whether either initiated follow-up with Pritchard.

When educators have previously shown they can’t maintain appropriate boundaries with students, districts need to monitor those staff members to ensure they’re behaving appropriately, Shakeshaft said. She called the district’s response typical, saying it appears leadership “got a red flag, they gave a directive and they ended it.”

Records also show that in February 2018, Pritchard emailed several of the alleged victim’s teachers, asking them to change the student’s grades and excuse missing assignments. Pritchard told the teachers she was “working to improve (the student’s) GPA.”

Pritchard also asked teachers to either send the student to her office or excuse his absences from class. The student alleged they had sex on several of those occasions.

Spolar said it’s “not typical nor appropriate” for an administrator to ask teachers to change a student’s grades.

Proper bystander training would help teachers recognize possible warning signs suggesting an inappropriate relationship between a student and staff member, Shakeshaft said. But records do not show that those teachers made any reports suggesting Pritchard’s behavior may have been inappropriate.

“This should be initiated by a student and involve a counselor, following district guidelines,” Spolar said. “Additionally, any report of an administrator asking a teacher to change a grade, other than due to an error, would be inappropriate.”

What the law requires

Former substitute teacher Mark Lugliani is awaiting trial after police say he locked a student with a disability in a closet at one of Evergreen’s high schools and sexually assaulted her on March 29.

But Lugliani was twice disciplined for misconduct involving students at another district: Battle Ground Public Schools. And twice, that district failed to report the incidents to OSPI as required by state law.

Had Battle Ground informed the state as it should have, it’s possible he may not have been hired in Evergreen for the 2017-2018 school year.

In the 2014-2015 school year, Lugliani was a provisional special education teacher in the Battle Ground district, finishing his first year of a three-year probationary period. But records show that on Jan. 9, 2015, another staff member walked in on him holding a student by the shirt collar and shouting in his face. He was placed on administrative leave with pay, and on May 6, was told his contract would not be renewed for the following school year.

Former Superintendent Mark Hottowe never reported the incidents to OSPI. A transcript of a conversation between the two shows Hottowe advised Lugliani that if he was placed on administrative leave, he would be paid through the rest of the school year.

“I am looking out for your future in education, if you have one,” Hottowe told Lugliani. “Future employers, if they ask, we will have to tell them what happened. All they will have to do is look at your application and ask ‘Have you been fired?’ You don’t want to say yes; you won’t ever get a job.”

Lugliani returned to Battle Ground in the 2016-2017 school year, this time as a substitute teacher. Months later, on Jan. 25, 2017, he was removed from the district’s substitute teacher list. A letter obtained from the district shows he called girls in his class “sweetheart” and “honey.” He allowed students to sign up for an online learning game using crass names.

All the while, Lugliani continued to substitute teach in the Evergreen school district.

Battle Ground Public Schools spokeswoman Rita Sanders declined to make district staff available for an interview regarding Lugliani’s conduct. She did not explain why Lugliani was allowed to return to the district during the 2016-2017 school year — despite a prior record of grabbing the student’s shirt collar — saying only that he was expected to comply with the training required of all employees.

When asked why the district did not report Lugliani’s previous incidents of misconduct at Battle Ground, Sanders said the incidents “did not rise to the level of reporting at that time.”

“However, following the allegations in Evergreen, the district decided that OSPI might want to be informed about past incidents related to this person,” Sanders wrote in an email.

Mark Ross succeeded Hottowe as superintendent in the 2017-2018 school year, about a year after Lugliani was fired. Ross reported the previous incidents to OSPI on June 4, about 2 1/2 weeks after The Columbian requested Lugliani’s employment record. The letter contains few details or specifics.

“Mr. Lugliana (sic) was observed yelling excessively in student’s face and grabbing the same student by the shirt collar in a threatening manner, and on a later date, made inappropriate comments to female students,” Ross wrote.

Long-standing Washington law requires that superintendents report to OSPI’s Office of Professional Practices when an educator violates the state’s Code of Professional Conduct or lacks “good moral character” to be a teacher.

When the OPP opens an investigation into allegations of misconduct against an educator, a red banner appears in the online certification file available to all districts. It says “complaint being investigated, contact OPP.” If the teacher is formally reprimanded, suspended or has a license revoked, that record follows the teacher forever in both statewide and national databases.

Evergreen reviews substitutes’ certification files at the beginning of each school year, Gomes said. If Lugliani was being investigated or had been formally punished by Battle Ground, staff would have known.

OPP Director Catherine Slagle said Battle Ground failed to properly report Lugliani’s prior misconduct.

“I don’t want to throw them under the bus, but he may not have been hired at Evergreen had a complaint been sent to us,” she said.

Listening to rumors

For months in 2015, rumors persisted at Mountain View High School that band teacher Eric Smedsrud and a student in his class were in a romantic relationship.

In April 2015, the student showed up unexpectedly to a band competition. According to an investigation by risk management company Clear Risk Solutions, her classmates speculated that she was there to see Smedsrud. The incident “created a small fervor” among the students, according to the investigation, prompting Smedsrud to spend class time trying to extinguish the rumors.

Administrators too brushed off the students.

“There was no evidence of any premeditated or intentionally inappropriate action by Mr. Smedsrud,” Principal Matt Johnson wrote in a report about the incident. “It was all insinuated by perceptions of students based on bits of information.”

School districts chronically undervalue the word of students, Shakeshaft said. Students are often seen as holding a grudge against teachers or their peers, so rumors are seen as an attempt to stir up trouble rather than leads worth investigating.

“They’re not taken seriously, and they should be,” Shakeshaft said.

The student graduated in June 2015. In September 2015, however, Smedsrud’s co-teacher, Sam Ormson, further expressed concerns to Johnson. Records show Ormson was worried Smedsrud seemed unusually close to her, especially in the wake of his then-ongoing marital problems. Johnson himself spotted the two hugging at an event at the University of Washington just three days later.

Again, the report and warning signs were ignored.

“I will admit, given the recent events at Evergreen High School the past year involving illegal relationships between teachers and students, we are hypersensitive of these issues,” Johnson wrote.

During the 2014-2015 school year, Evergreen High School teachers Matthew Morasch and Stephanie McCrea had been arrested for sexual misconduct involving students.

“So after reflecting on all the information at this point, we do recognize all of our speculation lacks real evidence to move forward,” Johnson continued.

In December 2015, Johnson received an email from a woman identifying herself as the mother of a student at Central Washington University, where the former student was enrolled. The mother told Johnson that Smedsrud was dating a former student living in a dormitory, and alleged he visited her and brought her alcohol in the dorm.

The district forwarded the allegations to Clear Risk Solutions, and Smedsrud was placed on paid administrative leave that month.

Clear Risk’s investigation turned up substantial evidence suggesting the pair were in a relationship while the student was still enrolled at Mountain View High School. The evidence included dozens of text messages, some of which were sexually explicit, dating back to February 2015.

Spolar, the district spokeswoman, denied the investigation suggested the pair had a relationship prior to the student’s graduation. But Smedsrud was nonetheless fired in April 2016, with district officials telling him the text messages were evidence of “grooming, the development of an inappropriate, if not sexual relationship with your then-current student, and boundary invasions.” Then-Superintendent John Deeder alerted the state shortly thereafter.

Smedsrud was never arrested or investigated on criminal charges. He surrendered his teaching license earlier this year and continues to deny the allegations of wrongdoing.

In an interview with The Columbian, the student’s mother called the former band teacher “pathetic.” The Columbian is not identifying the woman in an effort to protect the identity of her daughter.

She criticized the district’s handling of the case, saying they ignored warning signs, bystanders’ reports and allowed her daughter to be preyed upon.

“The school district could have done more,” she said. “They should have done more. They failed to protect my daughter.”

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