Newly adopted policies and technology will protect students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District from harm, district administrators told the Peninsula Clarion last week, one month after a teacher was arrested on allegations of sexual abuse of a student.
Since 2000, at least four former KPBSD staff members have been convicted of crimes stemming from sexual misconduct that occurred while they were employed by the district. Of those, three have been convicted for crimes that occurred while they were a KPBSD teacher against a student, while the other committed crimes against non-student minors while employed by the district. A fifth staff member is currently facing allegations of sexual misconduct in a case that is actively being litigated.
Coming into compliance
KPBSD in 2021 adopted a sweeping new policy responding to new Title IX mandates handed down by the federal government. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities that receive financial assistance from the federal government, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
To bring itself into compliance, KPBSD — delayed for a year by the COVID-19 pandemic — hired a Title IX coordinator, adopted a comprehensive sexual misconduct policy, started new trainings about Title IX reporting and awareness, and is implementing new software that will better flag and track incidents of misconduct by district staff and students.
The new policy was approved by KPBSD school board members as Board Policy 4119.15, “Sexual Misconduct & Inappropriate Boundary Invasions,” in February 2021. Among other things, it defines educator sexual misconduct and inappropriate boundary invasions, outlines the responsibility of the district Title IX coordinator and describes the steps for investigating Title IX violations.
Also as part of Title IX, Human Resources Director Nate Crabtree said in written responses provided to the Clarion, KPBSD is newly using Guardian, software that tracks reports of sexual harassment and misconduct leveled against district staff. Crabtree wrote KPBSD is also changing how it surveils inappropriate communication sent using school district email addresses.
Currently, the KPBSD uses Google’s spam filtering platform to filter student emails. However, it hopes to have in place for the 2023-2024 school year a new filter platform that will also monitor emails for “objectionable content,” like self-harm, content that is sexual in nature and bullying. The new platform will alert district administrators if such content is detected.
“The District seeks to continuously improve and adapt our policies and practices to create the safest environment possible for all staff and students,” Crabtree wrote.
KPBSD staff are newly taking training specific to Title IX procedures, Crabtree wrote. All Alaska teachers are also required by the State of Alaska to complete training in sexual abuse awareness and prevention, alcohol or drug-related disabilities, dating violence awareness and prevention, and suicide awareness and prevention.
The new protocols mark a dramatic shift from what was in place before the federal government mandated new policies.
Prior to 2021, the district said its process for handling claims of sexual harassment were covered by Board Policy and Administrative Regulation 4119.11, which have since been complemented by the Title IX policies adopted in 2021.
Those policies, adopted in 2008, state generally the school board’s commitment to eliminating sexual harassment in KPBSD schools and activities, and directed district staff to report violations to the supervisor of the accused employee, or to the district’s Human Resources Department.
At more than 5,300 words, the new sexual misconduct policy adopted by board members in 2021 is about 13 times as long as the two 2008 policies, which combined contain just over 400 words.
Since the board adopted new Title IX policies in 2021, Crabtree said in his written responses, KPBSD has not conducted any formal Title IX investigations. He wrote that KPBSD has responded to “various reports in accordance with other appropriate District policies,” but could not provide the number of reports that have been investigated.
Of the at least five former KPBSD staff members who have been convicted of sex crimes involving minors between 2000 and 2023, three cases dealt with misconduct between a teacher and a student.
Former Nikiski Middle/High School music teacher Jeremy Anderson was sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree. After a student reported to a teacher that she and Anderson had engaged in a sexual relationship while she was 15, Anderson faced 16 counts of first- and second-degree sexual abuse of a minor.
The victim in that case in 2018 filed a civil suit against Anderson and KPBSD, alleging that the school district failed to protect her from harm by Anderson.
The suit says Nikiski Middle/High School, the school board and the KPBSD did not discipline Anderson after initial reports of misconduct, did not educate the victim on how to report educator sexual exploitation and did not train its staff on how to detect, report or prevent sexual exploitation of students by staff.
The school district in a formal response to the complaint denied those allegations.
Earlier that year, KPBSD was named in a since-dismissed civil lawsuit brought by three former students who said they were sexually abused by Bradley Elliott, a former hockey coach at Soldotna High School. Elliott in 2018 was sentenced to 62 years in prison after pleading guilty to 15 charges including second-degree sexual abuse of a minor, possession of child pornography and indecent photography.
As the school district rolls out its bolstered protective software, one of its former employees will be actively litigating allegations of misconduct involving a student.
Nathan Erfurth, a former history teacher at Soldotna High School and former head of the local teachers’ union, was arrested on May 20 on two charges of sexual abuse of a minor. The arrest came about a month and a half after a former student alleged that she had been “sexually assaulted” by Erfurth over multiple years.
Within days of Erfurth’s arrest, he was fired by KPBSD and removed as head of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, the union that represents the school district’s teachers and has roughly 450 members.
Law enforcement documents obtained by the Peninsula Clarion show that Erfurth had twice been investigated by the Soldotna Police Department for alleged misconduct involving the same student who came forward earlier this year, although no charges were brought in either case. In all, the reports identify six people, including five adults, who either reported or were made aware of concerns about Erfurth’s behavior toward the student.
As part of both investigations, law enforcement worked with former KPBSD Human Resources Director Christine Ermold, who reports say led KPBSD’s investigations into Erfurth’s behavior. According to police, Ermold in 2016 was able to provide “about 500 pages of emails” sent between Erfurth and the student over KPBSD email.
In 2017, both Ermold and the Soldotna Police Department investigated behavior alleged to have occurred between Erfurth and the student during an international trip. That trip, police say, was neither sanctioned by nor associated with KPBSD. Ermold further told police in 2017 that, after the 2016 investigation, KPBSD “counseled” Erfurth over his conduct and gave him written notice that if his behavior continued, he could face termination.
Crabtree said in his written responses that he could not speak to whether or not it was the practice at that time to “counsel” employees about their behavior.
“I am unable to speak to meaning or intent behind the word in that report,” Crabtree wrote. “However, the District meets with staff to gather information, give directives and implement discipline if necessary.”
The district also did not verify whether or not the investigations described in the report as having been conducted by the school district actually occurred.
A statement provided to the Clarion on Thursday by Eric Derleth, Erfurth’s attorney, indicated that the parties intend to go to trial over the charges. Erfurth, Derleth’s statement asserted, is “innocent of all charges.”
“Nathan Erfurth has an unblemished reputation as an excellent and caring teacher, a loving father and husband, and an all-around considerate, helpful and caring person,” the statement provided by Derleth says. “Nathan and his family are confident that the evidence at trial will sustain and reinforce his excellent reputation and demonstrate to the community that he is innocent of all charges.”
Erfurth posted bail earlier this month, but was ordered by a judge to house arrest and is being monitored with a GPS anklet. Erfurth is also under the supervision of a third-party custodian and is not allowed to be near minor children other than his own.
In place at the time of Erfurth’s alleged conduct were the two sexual harassment policies adopted in 2008 stating that the district prohibits the sexual harassment of students or staff by other students, staff, board members or other third parties, such as school volunteers, visitors or service contractors working in district facilities.
The same pair of policies gives unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favors as among the behaviors that constitute sexual harassment, and directs employees or board members who feel they’ve been harassed to report the incident to KPBSD’s human resources department.
“It is the intent of the Board that appropriate corrective action will be taken by the District to stop the sexual harassment, prevent its recurrence and address negative consequences,” the 2008 policy says. “Employees in violation of this policy shall be subject to discipline, up to and including dismissal and/or additional sexual harassment awareness training, as appropriate.”
Although the administrative regulation exclusively talks about sexual harassment in relation to district employees and falls under the section of regulations titled “Personnel,” Crabtree said Wednesday the same process would have been applied to students making a claim against a staff member.
LaDawn Druce, the new president of KPEA following a special election that ended earlier this month, said Thursday that, anecdotally, she participated in Title IX training last year as a school counselor. Druce said the training was led by Jeff Ambrosier, KPBSD’s Title IX coordinator, and indicated to her that the topic was a priority.
“I believe from my perspective of that training … that the district is definitely taking it very seriously,” Druce said of Title IX.
As the new head of KPEA, Druce has been put straight into the fire of the controversy surrounding Erfurth’s departure from the district. Although she has an extensive history with the association and served as its first full-time president, Druce has called it “uncharted territory” for a member of KPEA’s executive board to face criminal charges.
KPEA will convene in October, Druce said, to review their policies and determine whether any changes are needed.
Tamra Wear, who served as KPEA’s interim president after the union’s executive board voted to remove Erfurth, told the Clarion in early June that the association first learned of the allegations against Erfurth on April 4. At that point, Wear said, the association put him on administrative leave. Two days after Erfurth was arrested, Wear said the board unanimously voted to remove him from that position.
It was two days later that Erfurth was fired by KPBSD. Neither the school district nor the teachers union would say whether or not Erfurth is contesting his termination.
Druce said KPEA’s top priority is student safety. Additionally, she said the United States operates under an “innocent until proven guilty” system and there are elements of Title IX that exist to protect the rights of people being accused of misconduct.
Moving forward, KPBSD says it is confident the Title IX policies implemented will prevent harm against students by staff members. Obstacles that stand in the way of the district being able to bring Title IX investigations to a conclusion, Crabtree said in written responses, are a lack of information or inaccurate information.
The district’s new policies offer guidance on how to spot grooming behavior, which refers to ways abusers test their targets by making them feel special through escalating behavior that could indicate the beginning stage of sexual misconduct.
Examples of grooming behavior include, but are not limited to, staff who volunteer to tutor a student at the staff member’s home, staff who talk to a student about personal problems, staff who take a particular student or group of students on a special outing, or staff who communicate with a student via text or social media for noneducation purposes.
Inappropriate boundary invasions, which KPBSD’s policy differentiates from grooming behavior, refer to an act, omission or pattern of such behavior by a staff member that violates professional boundaries, doesn’t serve an educational purpose and could potentially result in abuse.
Examples of inappropriate boundary invasions include, but are not limited to, staff singling out a particular student for personal attention, socializing where students are consuming alcohol or drugs, unnecessarily invading a student’s privacy, addressing a student with a pet name, or exchanging gifts or letters with a student.
The new policies also newly offer examples of behavior that is “strictly prohibited,” such as staff dating students, sexual abuse of students, having social media communication with a student who is not a relative of the staff member, and inviting students home when there is not a parent or guardian present, among others.
The policy also requires the district to employ a Title IX coordinator — Ambrosier — and requires individual schools to develop policies aimed at preventing sexual misconduct and boundary invasions, and outlines how violations of the policy will be investigated.
Suspected violations of the district’s sexual misconduct policies can be reported anonymously and regardless of how much time has passed since the alleged incident occurred. However, Crabtree said, as more time elapses between when a report is made and when the incident occurred, the more difficult it is to conduct an investigation.
All KPBSD staff, including volunteers, are considered mandatory reporters and required to report any incident, suspected or otherwise, to the district. In addition to a fillable PDF complaint form made available on KPBSD’s Title IX web page, the district also accepts reports at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach reporters Ashlyn O’Hara and Jake Dye at email@example.com.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of KPBSD staff convicted of convicted of crimes stemming from sexual misconduct that occurred while they were employed by the district. Four staff members were convicted of crimes committed while employed by the district. A fifth employee was convicted twice for crimes that occurred after he was employed by the school district.