CASPER — The Natrona County School District says it can’t comment on anything related to the arrest of a Dean Morgan tutor accused of sexually abusing a former student. Police, meanwhile, say there could be more victims, and parents were split on the district’s handling of the incident.
Details of the school district’s response — especially the staff member’s employment status — remain unclear. School officials have declined to comment beyond confirming an employee was arrested and saying they put in undefined safeguards to prevent contact by that employee, who the district has yet to name. But the staffer was identified as Dean Morgan tutor Jason Waugaman when he appeared Friday in open court on two charges of second-degree sexual abuse and one similar charge in the third degree.
Waugaman has worked for the district in various capacities — a speech and debate coach at Kelly Walsh, a substitute teacher and a tutor — for more than a decade, according to his LinkedIn page. He is accused of beginning a relationship with a then-13-year-old middle schooler that he briefly taught as a substitute during the 2014-15 school year. After months of texting, which occasionally turned graphic, Waugaman allegedly drove to the victim’s home in July 2016 and sexually abused her in his car. She was 14 at the time, according to police documents.
In messages obtained by police and described in an affidavit laying out the allegations against him, Waugaman allegedly messaged with the victim earlier this month, graphically describing the night from 2016 and said he wished it could happen again.
He was arrested by police on Jan. 16. He denied the allegations to police, calling his relationship with the victim “strictly professional.”
Police first notified the Casper community of an arrest within the school district in a press release Thursday that offered few details. The district confirmed the report and added little else, citing the ongoing investigation. After a wave of social media comments criticizing the dearth of details — specifically the lack of information about the schools affected — the police department put out a statement saying a state statute prohibited officials from releasing more until the suspect was formally charged in district court.
On Friday, Waugaman appeared in front of Judge Steven Brown, and the charges against him were read aloud. That same day, the affidavit describing the allegations was released to the public.
The school district did not answer repeated requests for comment made Friday. Messages left for a spokeswoman and a senior district administrator were not returned, and the district’s incoming superintendent directed questions to a spokeswoman before hanging up.
On Tuesday, a Casper police spokesman said that “there could be” more victims.
“We don’t know for sure,” Sgt. Joey Wilhelm told the Star-Tribune. “If there are any other victims, we would like for them to come forward.”
The district declined to comment Tuesday, citing state statute. Specifically, a spokeswoman declined to say if Waugaman is still employed, what safeguards had been put into place to ensure he has no contact with students, how the district conducts background checks into incoming staff members, if parents at Dean Morgan or Kelly Walsh were notified, when the district became aware of the allegations, or what the district is doing to look for any other victims.
District spokeswoman Tanya Southerland said the district has “provided the information we legally are allowed to provide as directed by legal counsel. We are absolutely dedicated to sharing information and updates with our community in accordance with applicable laws. As soon as we can lawfully do so, we will share any legally allowable information with our parents, guardians, community, and all media partners.”
She said the Star-Tribune’s questions were being provided to the district’s private attorney, Craig Silva, for consultation. Two messages sent to Silva seeking clarification on what exactly prevents the district from commenting were not returned.
Southerland reiterated that the investigation is ongoing and that “in order to not interfere with the investigation, we are asking that all questions related to the investigation be directed to the Casper Police Department.”
As justification for its no-comment, the district is citing a state statute that blocks authorities from releasing the name of sexual misconduct suspects until they’ve been formally charged in district court. But an attorney for the Star-Tribune said the public nature of the allegations largely negates the concern.
“I can’t see how any of the answers would reveal info that would interfere with the investigation,” said Bruce Moats, a Cheyenne-based attorney who represents media outlets across the state. “I guess they could argue that if the safeguards are not known to the accused, he could try to evade them if he is informed. I cannot imagine such a scenario, however.”
Moats called Waugaman’s employment status “expressly public.” How the district screens employees “is not confidential,” he added, nor is how — or if — the district communicated with parents.
Of the 10 parents who spoke to the Star-Tribune outside of Dean Morgan on Tuesday, only one said he might’ve been notified that a staff member at their children’s school had been arrested. The rest said they received no text or phone call. Most learned about it from Facebook. Some parents criticized the district’s handling of the incident, while others said they understood.
“Sure, it’s an embarrassing situation for them,” said Anthony Bone, a father to two Dean Morgan students. “But I didn’t find out until he was arrested that he was right at my daughters’ school.”
Bone, who was waiting for his kids in his truck on the street outside Dean Morgan, called the news “unnerving.” Alma Valles said she was shocked to hear that a staff member at her daughter’s school was arrested. But she said she thought the district handled the situation OK. Chris Low, who was picking up her granddaughter, said she hadn’t heard anything about the arrest. She said the district should’ve notified parents.
Rebecca Felton said she learned there was an arrest from the police department and that she “needed to know what school it was.” But still, she said she understood the district’s decision not to release the information immediately.
Deanna Haley said the district should’ve been more open with parents.
“It makes you feel like they’re not safe at school,” she said as she waited in her car outside of the central Casper building, which houses one of the largest middle schools in the state.
It remains unclear as of Tuesday afternoon if Waugaman is still employed. He still appears in the district’s online directory. In past incidents in which staff members were criminally charged, the district has waited for the court case to be adjudicated before launching its own investigation and determining whether to fire the employee.