More students allege abuse by former Wasilla elementary teacher in lawsuit against school district

PALMER — Three more families are claiming that a former Wasilla elementary school teacher inappropriately touched their children and school officials did nothing to act on their concerns prior to his arrest.

A civil complaint filed Tuesday in Palmer Superior Court also identifies a second school official accused of discouraging one parent from pursuing their concerns and not alerting authorities as required.

Lukis Nighswonger, 39, taught at Iditarod Elementary School from 2005 until his 2018 arrest on sexual abuse charges.

Nighswonger told investigators he was a pedophile who “has been attracted to kids for as long as he can remember,” according to charging documents. He was indicted on 19 counts of sexual abuse of a minor and sexual assault in a criminal case involving at least eight victims.

[Wasilla teacher accused of abuse was fired from retail job for ‘sexual’ touching of customer, lawsuit says]

Nighswonger was a beloved teacher known as “Mr. Nigh” who’d taught at Iditarod since 2005 and received a BP Teacher of Excellence award in 2015 — the same year several young victims say he abused them.

About a dozen families joined civil lawsuits against Nighswonger and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District in 2019.


A complaint filed at the time listed the district and former Iditarod principal Scott Nelson as defendants. It claimed that school officials dismissed concerns about Nighswonger even after parents shared specific stories from their children detailing abuse.

Four of the original plaintiffs have since settled, according to Myron Angstman, a Bethel attorney whose firm is representing some plaintiffs, along with the Wasilla office of Gregory Parvin.

The three new plaintiffs are all parents of students who say Nighswonger touched them inappropriately, Angstman said. The students were fourth graders at the time, two in 2017-18 and one in 2013-14.

In addition, the complaint names a teacher at the school, Molly Young, and alleges she failed to respond to complaints about Nighswonger and violated district and state reporting policies.

One of the three families said their son told them Nighswonger “repeatedly exploited and molested him” throughout the fourth grade in 2011 and 2012, the new complaint states. They reported the situation to law enforcement and the school and district.

Nelson, principal at the time, was dismissive and kicked the boy’s mother out of school, threatening legal action if she didn’t stop “making reports about Nighswonger molesting her son,” the complaint states.

She then went to school district offices to file reports and received a similar reception there, according to the complaint: “Like Nelson, (district) personnel demanded she leave school property and threatened her with legal action if she continued to make reports about Nighswonger molesting her son.”

Six years later, another mother heard from her son that Nighswonger was “grooming, exploiting and molesting him in the classroom and in the school locker room,” the complaint states. The boy “refused to go to school unless he wore an oversized belt that was cinched high up around his pants.”

That parent turned to Young, a friend, but the teacher was dismissive and told her Nighswonger would never behave inappropriately around children, the complaint states. Young discouraged the parent from taking action and did not report their concerns as required by statute and district policy, according to the complaint.

Nighswonger later admitted that both Young and Nelson contacted him and warned him of both parents’ reports, the complaint states.

Young could not be reached for comment. The teacher was still listed on the school’s website as of Friday.

School district spokesperson Jillian Morrissey declined to comment on Wednesday when asked about Young and later emailed a statement: “The District does not comment on active litigation matters.”

The plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit filed this week are seeking a judgment to be determined by a jury, punitive damages as to Nelson and the teacher, and attorneys’ fees and other costs.

Nighswonger remains jailed at the Anchorage Correctional Complex on $1 million cash bail. A trial in his criminal case is currently scheduled for April.

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at