By Amy Clancy | Originally published in Kiro 7
PUYALLUP, Wash. – A former Kalles Junior High School student told KIRO 7 recently that physical education teacher Tim Paulsen began grooming him when he was in seventh grade.
“It would start with his hand on my thigh when he was driving,” the now-grown man said about his time as a student in the Puyallup School District in the mid-1990s. “I’d go over to his house for sleepovers,” he added.
Because the man claims to be a victim of childhood sexual abuse, KIRO 7 is not identifying him.
According to his 2018 lawsuit — recently settled in Pierce County Superior Court — “Paulsen’s predatory and grooming behaviors” toward the boy “were not done in secret, but rather out in the open.”
The lawsuit claimed multiple boys were often invited to Paulsen’s house for sleepovers where the teacher would “fondle” the plaintiff while the two “wrestled” and that the sexual abuse occurred in some very public places.
“I have several distinct memories of sexual abuse that took place on school grounds, in the weight room, at his house, on school-sponsored trips,” the plaintiff said.
According to court documents filed during Paulsen’s 2014 divorce proceedings, Paulsen “admitted to sexually abusing” the plaintiff “and gave the court details of how and when the sexual abuse occurred.”
“What’s really important about this case,” lawyer Julie Kays of Connelly Law Offices PLLC said, “the red flags were a mile long, and nobody did anything.”
Kays represented the now-grown man in his lawsuit against the Puyallup School District that resulted in a $1.5 million settlement paid by Puyallup schools earlier this year.
Kays gave KIRO 7 copies of the letters Paulsen allegedly sent the boy in which the teacher wrote: “I love you conditionally, and, forever,” “I love it when you put your head on my shoulder, touch my hand, give me hugs,” — letters the boy’s father discovered when the child was in ninth grade.
“He tried to raise hell,” the plaintiff said of his father’s efforts. The father turned the letters over to the district and filed a formal complaint.
“My dad was alarmed because they seemed more like love letters,” he told KIRO 7. “He just said, ‘this has got to stop. I’m his dad and I don’t want this guy spending time with my son.’”
According to the former student’s lawsuit, the District launched an investigation and the superintendent at the time issued a statement to Paulsen describing the relationship as “inappropriate and must not be continued, especially in view of the strong objections of the boy’s father.”
Paulsen was ordered “to avoid further one-to-one contact” with the boy “at school or elsewhere.”
That directive was issued before a school-sponsored trip to Washington, D.C.
Paulsen “was a chaperone and I was allowed to stay in his hotel room and sleep in the same bed with him,” the plaintiff said during his interview with KIRO 7.
When asked whether the school knew he was roommates with Paulsen on the trip, the man responded: “I don’t know how they couldn’t. Other teachers did at the time.”
He said despite the sleeping arrangements, no one at the school raised any red flags.
Lawyer Kays said the Washington, D.C. trip is just one example of how the Puyallup School District was negligent in its treatment of her client. “You don’t pay a lot of money unless you did something wrong, or you screwed up,” she said.
According to the lawsuit, “The District was an accomplice to the acts of molestation and sexual abuse that would be committed…by Teacher Paulsen on that trip.”
KIRO 7 requested an on-camera interview with Puyallup School District Chief Communications and Arts Officer Brian Fox to discuss the settled case, which is now a matter of public record, and to find out what — if any changes — have been made in the district to prevent future abuse.
That request was declined. Instead, Fox emailed the following statement:
“The Puyallup School District recently reached an agreement with a former student who filed a lawsuit against the district relating to alleged events occurring beginning in the 1997-98 school year. The employee of concern no longer works with the district.
“The decision to resolve the claims prior to the trial was a business decision made by the district’s insurers.
“Puyallup staff members remain committed to providing a safe and positive educational experience for all our students. The district takes these kinds of concerns very seriously and promptly takes action to ensure all students are safe.
“The PSD Board of Directors expects all employees to maintain the highest professional, moral and ethical standards in their interaction with students. Employees are required to maintain an atmosphere conducive to learning, through consistently and fairly applied discipline and established and maintained professional boundaries.
“Since 1997 school board policy regarding maintaining employee/student boundaries has been revised several times in accordance with the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) and Washington Administrative Code (WAC). Current policy can be found on the Puyallup School District website at www.puyallup.k12.wa.us.
-Brian D. Fox Ph.D.
Kays has advice for parents. “The primary motivation in coming forward was to give and empower other victims to come forward and to realize, it’s never too late for justice.“Be the squeaky wheel. Continue to fight for your child,” she said.
As for the plaintiff, he said his motivation for speaking publicly was that he doubts “that merely a quiet lawsuit ending in a settlement will have the kind of impact and change that becoming public about it could.”
In fact, his lawsuit – settled hours before trial was to begin, according to Kays — is not the first filed against the Puyallup School District because of Paulsen.
A 16-year old boy sued the district in 2005, alleging Paulsen “began cultivating an inappropriate relationship with him” — “contact that would have led to sexual abuse.” His complaint points to “a similar and inappropriate relationship with a student in 1997” and says “the district did not take reasonable steps to control Paulsen’s conduct” then.
In 2006, the Puyallup School District agreed to a $110,000 settlement with the 16-year old.
KIRO 7 emailed and called Paulsen for comment. He did not respond. He is no longer teaching.