Resigned Lake Stevens teacher accused of repeated misconduct

LAKE STEVENS — A former Lake Stevens High School teacher who resigned in February after an affair with a former student had been disciplined repeatedly for what the school district defined as “deeply troubling” sexual misconduct.

Thomas “Chris” Mattingly, 47, had been investigated at least five times for inappropriate contact with current and former students, and for viewing pornography on his school computer, according to public records obtained by The Daily Herald.

Years ago, the Lake Stevens School District removed Mattingly’s computer from his office because he would not stop his inappropriate behavior on the internet, records show. In January, the district’s attorneys asked Mattingly to imagine the headlines and how it would look if his full work history was unearthed by The Herald.

And yet, until recently, he kept his job teaching young people.

The evidence against Mattingly was not enough to justify firing him under state law and the union contract, district spokeswoman Jayme Taylor said.

It has become “increasingly difficult to terminate teachers for misconduct,” she said in a prepared statement.

Mattingly received progressively tougher discipline including unpaid suspensions and letters of reprimand.

“His misconduct, while deeply troubling and unacceptable, did not provide adequate proof to meet probable cause for termination in a court of law,” Taylor said.

Meanwhile, Arlington School District officials say they were unaware of Mattingly’s history when they hired him as a coach in 2011, after he’d been removed from coaching girls in Lake Stevens. Mattingly is no longer working for Arlington schools.

Through his attorney, Anna Goykhman, Mattingly declined to comment for this story.

“We have nothing more to add at this time,” Goykhman said. “We ask that the Mattingly family’s privacy be respected.”

Mattingly’s teaching license remains under review by the state superintendent’s office. That review is focused on an affair he admitted having with an 18-year-old former student. The young woman told officials at her college that she graduated from Lake Stevens before the relationship started. The state review will consider whether the relationship, while not criminal, violated professional standards.

Mattingly earned his teaching license and started working for the school district in 1992. He started at the high school in 1994, mostly teaching physical education.

In June 2001, Mattingly was suspended for five days without pay for viewing pornography on his school computer, records show.

“It is no exaggeration to state that your actions have placed your professional career in jeopardy,” then-Assistant Superintendent David Burgess wrote in a discipline letter. “It is imperative that you initiate contact with a counselor and begin counseling right away.”

Mattingly was required to sign a privacy waiver so district leaders could review his counseling records and be assured “this behavior will not occur again.”

Burgess, who later served as superintendent, wrote that the suspension was an “extremely strong warning” that additional problems could result in termination.

In November 2003, Mattingly again was in trouble, this time for using school email to communicate with two young women who also were former students.

Some of those emails were sent during the school day and discussed their “lacy underwear.”

The emails “expressed your personal interest towards (the former students) in a manner that was highly inappropriate,” the human resources director wrote.

The 2003 discipline letter said his actions demonstrated “poor professional judgment.”

Four years later, Mattingly penned a four-page letter to the district in which he criticized those who questioned his relationships with students or treated him differently after hearing about his disciplinary matters. His 2007 letter provides insight into how he saw himself: as a dedicated teacher and coach whose good intentions were misconstrued. He was being persecuted over “negative perceptions,” and claimed he was the subject of malicious whispers, even when he went to the grocery store.

In the letter, he admitted sending inappropriate emails in 2003 but denied any sexual intent. He also made clear he didn’t believe the scrutiny was justified. As an example, he pointed to being questioned after he used a school computer to look at “fantasy art” of Viking warriors. He said he was seeking “a very sleek looking Viking or warrior logo” for some T-shirts for students who used the weight room. Vikings are the school mascot.

“In the process of looking for pictures/logos, I would come across things that would get blocked,” he wrote.

After the underwear emails, Mattingly was forbidden from using the computer in his office for the rest of that school year, except for “educationally related matters.” He also was forbidden from accessing his work email unless he was using a designated computer in the school library. He was told his emails would be monitored and again was warned that future problems, including any failure to “exercise sound judgment,” could result in termination.

That was on Nov. 4, 2003. Sixteen days later, the district issued another disciplinary letter.

Another high school student alleged that Mattingly was “seeking to arrange and engage in a confidential sexual encounter with her,” records show.

Mattingly and the student allegedly had met on a phone chat line and agreed to get together. He told his bosses he thought the girl was 19 and lived in another district, and she never showed up to the scheduled rendezvous. The police were not notified of the girl’s report.

“We did an internal investigation and the student declined to provide any information, which then halted the investigation,” said Taylor, the district spokeswoman. “We couldn’t move forward without her involvement.”

Mattingly later wrote that the situation happened outside of work and was “a personal matter between my wife and me. A family issue.”

The human resources director wrote Mattingly that the girl’s allegations were “a critical reminder as to the importance of your professional responsibility to act with sound moral character and judgment.”

Mattingly sent the 2007 letter to the district after two additional investigations took place that year.

In November 2007, the district investigated an allegation that he had an inappropriate relationship with a female student who had graduated. The results of the investigation were inconclusive.

Mattingly said he was trying to mentor the girl, who had a difficult background, and acknowledged spending time with her outside of his teaching duties. In his letter, he accused the school district of trying to turn his success into “something sordid.”

“No time was spent in secret or in a grooming nature,” he wrote in 2007. “I wish the school district would trust me as much in this situation and in others as (the girl’s) own mother and family do … But I have never, nor will I ever, be a danger to this community or its children.”

Later that month, Mattingly was suspended again, this time for 10 days without pay.

In that incident, he used a school district computer to look at pictures of partially clothed women.

He later claimed he was researching bodybuilding and nutrition. The material was determined to be inappropriate for school but not explicit. He also had tried to access six pornographic websites but was blocked. In the letter, he said he ended up on those sites by accident and “I should have known better.”

His school computer was removed from his office. He was forbidden from using any district computer except the supervised one in the library.

While the district allowed Mattingly to continue to teach, it removed him as a coed track coach and weight training supervisor for Lake Stevens. He later was allowed to coach a season of boys basketball.

The district also notified the state superintendent’s office of “potential student-teacher boundary violations.” The state conducted an investigation and issued a letter of reprimand in 2009.

Mattingly was hired as an assistant coach in Arlington in February 2011, district spokeswoman Andrea Conley said. Arlington checked with Lake Stevens and was not told about any previous allegations, she said.

Arlington officials “were not aware of the behavior mentioned” in Lake Stevens records, she said. “He was cleared through the criminal background check process.”

Mattingly’s most recent troubles started last fall, when an 18-year-old former student reported that they had an affair after she graduated in 2015.

The Lake Stevens district hired a law firm to conduct an internal investigation. At least one other former student and two current seniors were interviewed. There was not sufficient evidence from those interviews to determine whether Mattingly had behaved unprofessionally toward any additional students, documents show.

Police also conducted an investigation into potential sexual misconduct. No charges were filed because the woman was 18.

However, a review of Mattingly’s internet history on school computers showed he had conducted internet research on the 2015 graduate starting when she was a junior and 17 years old.

In December, while the district investigated, Mattingly sent the teen emails scolding her for hurting his feelings. He lectured her about Christianity and accused her of not praying enough for him. He also posted a picture on social media that showed the silhouette of a man committing suicide, prompting police to check on his welfare.

Mattingly also told the teen he’d been watching her college athletic career and critiqued her performance. He sent her a picture and quote from the movie, “Good Will Hunting,” which is about a brilliant, troubled student and an inspirational therapist.

In her interview, the teen told investigators Mattingly had “subtly pressured” her to have more intimate contact as their relationship progressed.

The district’s lawyers asked the teen why she was willing to cooperate with their investigation.

She said, “I do not want this to happen to anyone else.”

Mattingly also was interviewed at length. That transcript was among the documents recently obtained by The Herald through a series of public records requests. Lake Stevens police, the school district and the state superintendent’s Office of Professional Practices all have files on the former teacher. The state’s 2016 investigation is ongoing.

The Jan. 7 interview was conducted by Richard Kaiser, an attorney and investigator hired by the school district. As had happened before in disciplinary matters throughout his career, Mattingly was again represented during the interview by the Lake Stevens Education Association. The union represents about 450 teachers and other school staff.

“My job as the union president is to make sure the just-cause part of the contract is followed,” union President Robert Ingraham told The Herald.

In the interview, Mattingly admitted to sexual contact in the most recent case, and kissing the former student on school grounds. He said what took place was “awkward” because “I’m married and she was 18.”

Kaiser, the lawyer, reminded the teacher that he’d been the subject of at least five previous allegations of sexual misconduct. That history provided context for the recent investigation, Kaiser said.

Mattingly was asked if he had learned anything from the past cases “about not communicating with current or former students about those kinds of issues.”

Mattingly maintained that the allegations wouldn’t affect his teaching, saying, “I am great for kids.”

At one point Kaiser asked Mattingly, “Have you thought about what would happen, and I hope it doesn’t, for your sake, if the Everett Herald gets a hold of this?”

A few questions later, Kaiser said, “I mean, you can imagine the headline: Five times investigated; five accusations; still employed.”

Mattingly was asked how such newspaper coverage would reflect on the district. His answer: “Not good.”

He also was asked if his behavior was in line with generally accepted practices for teachers, who are entrusted with young people’s academic and personal growth. He was reminded that high schools will always have some students who are 18.

Mattingly admitted his behavior was unacceptable. When asked why, he said a teacher would face “the perception that you tried to use your position to do this.”

Mattingly submitted a two-sentence resignation letter on Feb. 10. He remains on paid time off, using leave he accrued as an employee, until his resignation takes effect when the school year ends. His salary for the 2015-16 school year is $84,187.

As of last week, Mattingly still was listed as a coordinator for the state track Combined Events Championships heptathlon/decathlon scheduled at Arlington High School on June 4 and 5. The high school and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association both said they have no affiliation with the event.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Timeline of misconduct

1992: Thomas “Chris” Mattingly is issued a state teaching license and started working for the Lake Stevens School District at Skyline Elementary. He moved to Lake Stevens High School in 1994.

June 2001: Mattingly received a five-day suspension for viewing pornography at work.

Nov. 4, 2003: He received a letter of reprimand from the district for sending inappropriate emails to two former students.

Nov. 20, 2003: He received another letter in his personnel file. A high school student told the district he had propositioned her. The investigation was inconclusive.

June 2007: Mattingly viewed images at work of partially clothed women. The material was determined not to be explicit but still inappropriate for school. He also tried to use the computer to view pornography but was blocked by district firewalls.

November 2007: He received a 10-day unpaid suspension for the June 2007 case and the school’s computer was removed from his office. He also was fired as a girls coach for Lake Stevens but later was allowed to coach a boys team.

February 2009: He received a letter of reprimand from the state for the 2007 allegations.

February 2011: He continued to teach for Lake Stevens, but was hired by Arlington schools as a coach after passing a background check. He continued in that role until 2015.

November 2015: An 18-year-old former student told officials at her new college that she and Mattingly had a romantic relationship, that started after she graduated. Her report triggered investigations by the Lake Stevens Police Department and the school district. Later that month, prosecutors declined to file criminal charges because the girl was old enough for legal consent.

Feb. 10, 2016: Mattingly resigned from the district, opting to use accrued leave through the rest of the school year. A state investigation into his teaching license is ongoing.

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