Teacher Wayne Earl Christopherson had a reputation among students in his fourth-grade class for physical contact with boys during class.
It made two Mountlake Terrace Elementary School students so uncomfortable that they reported the touching to the school’s principal in the 2003-04 school year.
On Thursday, May 5, Christopherson, 49, of Everett was charged with one count of first-degree child molestation for alleged illicit touching of boys in his classroom. In addition, he was charged with illegal possession of child pornography, which was discovered on his school computer.
Christopherson is scheduled to be arraigned May 18 in Snohomish County Superior Court, deputy prosecutor Matt Baldock said.
Christopherson was placed on administrative leave immediately after the allegations were brought to the attention of school officials by a parent in January, said Debbie Jakala, Edmonds School District spokeswoman. On March 24, Christopherson resigned, she said.
The allegation came to light Jan. 20 when a student’s parent went to the school’s current principal, Jackie Tanner, saying that her son had told her he had been improperly touched by Christopherson.
Mountlake Terrace police immediately began an investigation, interviewing at least eight current and former students of Christopherson, Baldock said.
One student said Christopherson’s improper attention occurred almost daily while class was in session, Baldock said.
An educational assistant who once worked in Christopherson’s class told investigators she saw him on several occasions reading to boys in an unusual way. Each time, the defendant was sitting in a chair with his arms wrapped around the standing student while he was reading, the assistant said.
“The defendant had his arms wrapped around the boy, holding the book in front of him,” Baldock said.
In the 2003-04 school year, two of the boys complained to a former principal that they had repeatedly been touched improperly by Christopherson, Baldock said.
The school district doesn’t know what happened with those allegations, Jakala said. The district was kept informed of the police investigation and learned in January that two boys had reported improper touching to the former principal.
Jakala said the district has asked a branch of the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to investigate. She said the Office of Professional Practices is pursuing the matter.
“The reassuring thing for the community and the parents is that it’s an allegation, but it is being taken extremely seriously and is being investigated,” Jakala said. “We took action immediately to make sure that occurred.”
The state investigation, however, is on hold pending completion of the criminal prosecution, said Kim Schmanke, a spokeswoman for the state superintendent’s office.
“We’re not ignoring the situation,” Schmanke said.
Jakala said the district has installed a computer filter that’s supposed to keep pornography from being downloaded. Also, all school employees must sign an agreement stating they will use the Internet only for appropriate purposes.
This is not the first sexual allegation against Christopherson.
In October 2001, he was convicted of misdemeanor public indecency in Lynnwood for soliciting sex from an undercover Lynnwood police officer in a park.
The Edmonds School District hired Christopherson in July of that year, so the conviction didn’t show up on a background check, Jakala said. There was no mechanism for the district to be told about a subsequent sexual conviction until this year, when the Legislature passed a law requiring sexual crimes by teachers to be reported to state and local school districts.
Jim Haley is a writer for The Herald in Everett.