A Vashon High School (VHS) teacher is now under investigation following a formal complaint, made by two VHS graduates, of serious and similar misconduct by the teacher in 2001 and 2008.
The case is unrelated to another accusation of misconduct by a different teacher, which was made in early September and is also still currently under investigation by the district.
The new case was announced in a district email sent by Superintendent Slade McSheehy on Oct. 31, informing the community that the teacher involved in the 2001 and 2008 allegations, still currently on staff at the school, had been placed on paid administrative leave pending the district’s investigation of the case.
He also said the case had been reported to King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) for a separate investigation.
In the email, McSheehy said that the district was taking the investigation very seriously, but that he could not provide further details at this time.
In subsequent interviews with The Beachcomber, McSheehy repeated that assertion, though added that like the other investigation, the new one pertains to violations of the VISD’s policy 5253, which stipulates the district’s role in protecting students from a broad range of inappropriate, boundary-crossing behaviors by staff members.
He also encouraged anyone with information about the 2001 and 2008 cases to contact the district.
However, a statement from attorneys representing the two VHS graduates, detailing more information about the case, was received by The Beachcomber on Monday, Nov. 7.
The attorneys, Jessica Johanson-Kubin and Lara Hruska, of Cedar Law, said in their statement that their clients had been in the process of preparing their complaint to the district prior to the announcement, in September, of the investigation of a different teacher.
According to the attorneys, both graduates, one from the class of 2008 and the other from the class of 2001, were “groomed by the same VHS teacher and manipulated into romantic relationships with that teacher shortly after their respective graduations.”
Both relationships lasted the course of the summer months, before each graduate left for college, they said.
Their statement also detailed a previous VISD investigation of the teacher in 2008, which occurred after friends of the 2008 graduate reported the relationship to the district.
At that time, the attorneys said, the 2008 graduate had “minimized what happened and was somewhat uncooperative with the investigation because, despite the fact that she’d experienced the relationship as harmful while it was happening, she wanted to protect the teacher.”
The 2008 investigation determined that no disciplinary action would be taken against the teacher at that time, according to district documents.
In a “Letter of Direction” signed by then-superintendent Terry Lindquist, the teacher was informed that no evidence had been found to substantiate that there had been “a grooming or intimate relationship” with the 2008 graduate while she was a student, as “the conduct” had occurred after she had graduated.
However, Lindquist’s letter also stated that the teacher “had lost the trust and confidence of the District administration,” and needed to improve on “recogniz[ing] it is inappropriate to act on romantic feelings with your students or newly graduated students.”
(Lindquist’s letter, obtained through a public disclosure request by the 2008 graduate and then by The Beachcomber, redacted the teacher’s name).
The attorneys for the graduates also detailed, in their statement, how the two graduates met and decided to file their complaints with the District.
“… as the 2008 graduate gained an adult perspective on the teacher’s actions, she began to see what had happened as more and more inappropriate, abusive and concerning, and she increasingly worried about the safety of current District students,” the attorneys said.
The 2008 graduate’s concern was deepened, according to the attorneys, by rumors she heard that the same teacher had previously had a romantic relationship with at least one other recently graduated student.
In 2019, those rumors were confirmed when a family friend on the island connected the 2008 graduate and the 2001 graduate.
“Until 2019, the 2001 graduate had never heard of it happening to another student,” the attorneys said. “As an adult looking back, she also saw the teacher’s behavior to her as having been inappropriate and abusive.”
The attorneys said that finding out the teacher’s behavior was a pattern “convinced both graduates that they needed to contact the District, providing an initial allegation of misconduct in the case of the 2001 graduate, and more complete information in the case of the 2008 graduate.”
The statement detailed how the lives of both graduates had been deeply affected, in intervening years, by the teacher’s conduct.
“Both graduates feel the experience with the teacher was traumatizing,” the attorneys said. “The long-term emotional impacts continue to affect them to this day. Though they decided that they needed to take action as soon as they met in 2019, it took several years for them to feel ready to undertake the emotionally draining, time-consuming, and potentially re-traumatizing process of filing a formal complaint with the district. Their only goal in coming forward is to hold the teacher accountable, and protect current and future students.”
Editor’s Note: The written statement, authored by Jessica Johanson-Kubin and Lara Hruska and sent to The Beachcomber, was shared with Superintendent Slade McSheehy, who declined to comment on its contents.
James McCanna, an attorney representing the teacher in the district’s investigation, could not be reached for comment on the statement.