In 1989, the Coeur d’Alene School District knew that teacher Paul T. Mather had had sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old girl, according to police reports.
School officials could have fired Mather for the breach of ethics or asked for a Department of Education investigation which could have ended his teaching career.
They did neither.
On Friday, Mather was charged with two counts of sexual abuse for allegedly fondling several students at Canfield Middle School.
The father of one of those girls was shocked to find out about the 1989 rape accusations. “I can’t believe the school district, knowing what they know, continued to allow him to teach young girls,” he said.
Citing confidentiality laws and fear of lawsuits, school district officials wouldn’t comment on Mather’s case.
Asked whether the district has done what it could to keep sexual predators out of the classroom, board member Vern Newby said: “Everything’s being done within the framework of the law that we can do.”
The Kootenai County prosecutor investigated the 1989 case but did not file rape charges because the girl’s family feared a rape trial would harm her. The girl also did not want to testify, her mother said Tuesday.
The incident resurfaced this summer during a sheriff’s investigation of the recent sexual abuse charges.
Sgt. Ken Sopher obtained copies of sheriff’s and Coeur d’Alene police investigations into the alleged rape.
According to the reports:
A 16-year-old Post Falls High School student told Coeur d’Alene schools attorney Charles Dodson, her own principal and her mother that she and Mather had had intercourse.
Mather admitted to his wife and a female friend that he had had sex with the girl but said he regretted the action. He said the girl had pursued him.
Both women were willing to testify at any school proceeding “to get the matter settled,” the reports said. Judy Mather was divorcing her husband but did not seem spiteful, according to the private investigator hired by the school district.
“She just wants Paul to get some help,” the investigator wrote.
A successful rape prosecution would have gotten Mather out of Coeur d’Alene classrooms. Without that, district officials were left to decide what, if any, reason they had to fire him.
The school board held a discharge hearing in Mather’s case - behind closed doors, because that’s the way the teacher wanted it.
According to Mather’s attorney, the district ended up sending Mather a letter stating the rape allegation was unfounded.
A school district leaves itself open to a lawsuit if it fires someone. But now, school officials have another option: filing a complaint with the state Professional Standards Commission.
State law says the school district must file a complaint if a teacher is fired or quits after allegations of misconduct. But there’s no reason a district can’t do that while someone still is on the payroll, said commission administrator Roger Hanshew.
Anyone - including parents - can file a complaint. The commission then conducts its own investigation. If it finds the allegations are well-founded, it can issue a reprimand or suspend or revoke a teaching certificate.
Without such a certificate, the teacher can’t work in Idaho public schools. All other states also are notified.
If the teacher requests a commission hearing, the rules of evidence and burden of proof are more lenient than in a court of law, said deputy attorney general Kirby Nelson. For example, a girl who said she had had sex with a teacher would not have to appear at the hearing. A sworn written statement would be adequate, Nelson said.
Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas would not comment on the Mather case but said his office rarely prosecutes rape cases if the victim doesn’t want to follow through.
The mother of the girl involved in the 1989 case said Tuesday the family feared the pressure of a trial might push the girl back into a drug habit. The teenager had just gone through rehabilitation. “That maybe was the wrong thing to do, but for our circumstances, that’s what I had to do,” the mother said.
The woman said her daughter also didn’t want to press charges. “She said he had a lot of problems. She felt sorry for him.”
The girl, now 24, has turned her life around, her mother said. She spent time in the military and now is attending college.
“I’m real sorry to hear about (the recent incidents),” the mother said. “I would like to see it put to a stop. I just didn’t know what type of person he was.”
, DataTimes MEMO: See related story under the headline: CdA teacher accused of sexual abuse