November 13, 2007 in City

Teacher remains on payroll

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A teacher who used Rogers High School computers to talk about his fantasies of having sex with – and even raping – teenagers is still being paid a year after he was removed from the classroom.

Social studies teacher Peter Perkins was sent home a year ago today. His salary and benefits have cost taxpayers nearly $69,000 since then.

Spokane Public Schools documents allege that Perkins photographed and twisted the nipples of bare-chested high school boys in a bathroom, wrote about his fantasies of raping a student, engaged in explicit online chats using district computers, and downloaded graphic files titled “Teen Muscle Boy” to a publicly owned computer. In all, there were 13 allegations of misconduct.

“I conclude that probable cause exists for your discharge from employment with Spokane Public Schools,” wrote Superintendent Nancy Stowell in a notification letter sent to Perkins late last month.

But Perkins, as state law allows, is appealing the district’s decision and has requested a hearing with a state hearings officer. That hearing hasn’t been scheduled, district officials said, so he could be on the payroll for weeks or months longer.

“The district conducted a lengthy, thorough investigation,” said Terren Roloff, district spokeswoman. “The notice of probable cause and the investigation findings and recommendations speak for themselves. … The school district fully expects to have its decision upheld.”

If a state hearings officer finds in favor of the district, the paychecks will cease.

Perkins, who taught in the school district for 20 years, could not be located for comment. His attorney, Larry Kuznetz, refused comment.

A day after being placed on leave, Perkins appeared on the PBS broadcast “A Hidden Life.” The program focused on The Spokesman-Review’s investigation into late Spokane Mayor Jim West’s misconduct, including his online pursuit of young men using the trappings of his elected city office. Perkins spoke to “Frontline” reporters about the difficulty of being a gay man in Spokane and said he unknowingly communicated with West on Gay.com.

School officials said that television appearance and the investigation have no connection.

The district’s investigation began Nov. 1, 2006, because of complaints from a parent and student, according to the documents obtained by The Spokesman-Review under the state’s public records laws.

School district officials won’t discuss specifics of the case.

Associate Superintendent Barb Wright said the investigation took nearly a year because she had to seek outside computer help several times. For instance, she hired a forensic specialist to trace Web sites Perkins allegedly visited and documents he’d downloaded on a laptop and other district computers.

According to the parent and student who first contacted the district, Perkins asked his students in class to look at his MySpace.com Web page, which contained links to pornographic materials and stated he was attracted to “younger” Asian, Hispanic and Native American men, the investigative documents state.

Wright concluded this was “poor judgment and had no legitimate educational purpose.”

But asking students to look at his Internet page wasn’t the most alarming discovery of the investigation. What was found on the district computers was just “wrong,” Wright said.

The forensic specialist found that Perkins had numerous sexually explicit online chats on his district computer, then copied, pasted and saved them to Word documents. Using graphic language, he allegedly talked about masturbating after watching high school boys wrestle; discussed another man’s luck at having sex with a high school sophomore; fantasized about forcing himself on a “hot student” in a locker room; and talked of role-playing as a teacher who would rape a “bad” student.

According to the computer expert, Perkins deleted 100 files containing some of this information before turning his laptop over to district officials. But the information was retrieved.

When Perkins was asked to explain why the offensive items were on his computer, officials say, Perkins explained that he “unintentionally downloaded all files on his personal computer via a thumb drive and then ‘accidentally’ put the files on his district computer,” according to the documents.

The investigation also revealed Perkins photographed teen boys, who were naked above the waist, as they painted the letters spelling “Rogers Spirit” on one another in a bathroom for a school spirit contest. On that occasion, Perkins is also accused of twisting the boys’ nipples.

Perkins, according to the documents, acknowledged that he should not have taken the pictures but said he didn’t recall touching the boys.

Based on information discovered in the investigation, Wright determined Perkins demonstrated an attraction to high-school-age boys, according to the documents.

When Perkins was asked if he thought that desire was inappropriate, he responded that the terms “young” and “boys” were vague, according to the documents. Perkins responded that he “may have crossed boundaries in these fantasies, but has never crossed the boundaries of the law,” district officials wrote.

In addition to the district’s own investigation, Roloff said officials filed a complaint with the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. That agency is responsible for teacher certification and will determine whether Perkins’ license should be revoked.

Officials at the state superintendent’s office were unavailable for comment Monday because of the Veterans Day holiday.

While Perkins allegedly violated state ethics laws by misusing public resources, he has not been charged.

No criminal charges have been filed against Perkins, said Spokane police spokesman Officer Glenn Bartlett. No matter how offensive his words and actions were, it doesn’t appear a crime was committed, he said.

Staff writer Sara Leaming contributed to this report.


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