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North Thurston parents raise safety concerns in wake of teacher, spokesman disclosures

The Olympian logoThe Olympian 12/8/2022 Rolf Boone, The Olympian (Olympia, Wash.)

Dec. 8—The recent arrest of a Salish Middle School teacher and new disclosures about a district spokesman spurred parents to speak out about safety at a North Thurston Public Schools board meeting on Tuesday.

Parent Stephanie Scott expressed her support for the district and her decision to live in Lacey, but she said the district has "shown time and again student safety is not a priority."

She provided some examples: Scott said her child was ostracized after a complaint about a teacher incorporating "homophobic, sexist, bigoted rhetoric into his curriculum."

Scott also attended the student protests at River Ridge High School last spring as an "adult ally" because she feared for the students' safety. Lastly, she said the district's messaging on the Salish Middle School teacher and the spokesman fell short, contending that the district was "making excuses for the communications director's previous behavior."

As for Salish teacher Justin Hinchcliffe, Scott said she hoped the district was proactively pursuing its own investigation, and if the district can't do anything until the criminal case is resolved, she asked the district to "empower parents at the school with resources to talk to their kids and reopen any previous complaints received about this teacher."

Hinchcliffe, who has been placed on leave from his teaching job, was charged last month in Lewis County with second-degree attempted rape of a child, communication with a minor for immoral purposes and attempted commercial sexual abuse of a minor, The Olympian reported.

Later, The Olympian learned that Aaron Wyatt, executive director of communications for the district, quit his teaching job at Mark Morris High School in Longview in 2008, after the district determined he had crossed a boundary with an 18-year-old female student, having private conversations with her in an area of the school that was off limits to students.

Longview Police investigated the Wyatt incident and found no wrongdoing, other than to say "while it may be inappropriate as to a student-teacher relationship, it did not amount to a criminal act."

"All K-12 students are kids and all deserve to be protected from the predatory behavior of an adult with power over them," Scott said. "And that includes 18-year-old students, especially 18-year-old students."

In a statement, Wyatt said he was battling depression.

"In December 2007, I suffered a mental health crisis defined by clinical depression and anxiety," he said. "Lacking sound judgment, I began to share my depression with a student, relying on those school-day conversations as a coping mechanism for my illness. The administration rightfully put me on administrative leave in March 2008," he wrote.

Parent Amber Markland accused Wyatt of "grooming," or making a child feel comfortable for manipulation. She called for Wyatt's termination. Addressing the school board directly, she said: "You are criminally negligent in following your own policies, and resignations from all of you are in order and justified."

District leadership had little to say in response to the public comment. Superintendent Debra Clemens deferred to the board, saying it was their role to hear and respond to public comment.

Board member Gretchen Maliska, who was elected board president during the meeting, said, "I think it's valuable to hear from our community, and I think that how people view issues is very different. They were very much heard."

(c)2022 The Olympian (Olympia, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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