PALMER -- Attorneys for two young people allegedly abused by a Wasilla teacher now say the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District hired Lukis Nighswonger after he was fired from a retail job for inappropriately touching a customer.
Nighswonger, 36, taught at Iditarod Elementary School from 2005 until his arrest on sexual abuse charges last fall. He’s now charged with 19 counts of sex abuse of a minor and sexual assault in a criminal case involving at least eight victims dating back to 2002. Nighswonger told investigators he was a pedophile who “has been attracted to kids for as long as he can remember,” according to charging documents.
The arrest also revealed that Nighswonger was allowed to continue teaching even after students began reporting concerning behavior in 2012.
Two civil lawsuits filed last week added new claims the school district failed to protect students after a teacher and administrator at Iditarod dismissed concerns brought by the mother of a fourth-grader who told her Nighswonger touched him and made him feel “weird" during the 2015-16 school year.
The principal at Iditarod during that time, Scott Nelson, was placed on administrative leave from his current post at Juneau’s Riverbend Elementary School in mid-February, according to a report in the Juneau Empire. Officials with the Juneau School District said they were examining the Mat-Su lawsuits. Nelson is in his first year at Riverbend.
Attorneys for two former Nighswonger students, a boy and girl identified only by their initials, also say that Nighswonger was fired from a job at a clothing store in 2001 or 2002 for “touching a customer in a sexual way,” according to an amended complaint filed Monday in Anchorage Superior Court. District policy requires that the district conduct a pre-employment investigation of applicants and hire only people “whose background and behavior exemplifies a standard deemed appropriate for individuals working with children.”
Attorney Mike Kramer said his Fairbanks-based law firm was contacted by two people who attended the University of Alaska Anchorage with Nighswonger when he was a teaching student.
“People who knew him there reported to us that he worked at a clothing store in Anchorage while going to college and reported being fired from that job for sexually touching a male customer in a dressing room,” Kramer said Tuesday, adding his firm still needs to do more research about Nighswonger’s employment history. “We believe the district failed to adequately investigate his background including that job and the reasons for him leaving that job.”
The complaint also resurrects the claim that Iditarod administrators were concerned enough about Nighswonger’s behavior to move his classroom to a location visible to the principal. School superintendent Monica Goyette last year confirmed that Nighswonger was moved to a different classroom based on a potentially concerning student report six months earlier.
Asked whether the Mat-Su school district was aware of Nighswonger’s termination from his former job, a spokeswoman said all she could say was “at this time we’re cooperating with the investigators” from the Wasilla Police Department in the criminal case.
District officials did not immediately respond to a number of other questions.
Nighswonger’s next court appearance in his criminal case is a March 21 pretrial conference, with trial scheduled to begin in April.