An investigator probing the possible misconduct of a teacher in the Lewiston-Porter Middle School has asked some of the teacher's pupils whether he ever touched them and, if so, what parts of their bodies he touched -- but the school administration insists that the investigation does not involve sexual misconduct.
In addition, some of the pupils and their parents said in separate interviews during recent days that the teacher is a respected educator who is well-liked by his students.
The investigation has touched off controversy among some parents who feel that they were not properly notified that their children would be questioned by a lawyer who is looking into incidents that may have occurred several months ago.
The controversy has been intensified by the school administration's refusal to identify the teacher and to discuss the reasons for the investigation. In trying to figure out which teacher is being investigated, some segments of the community have come up with the wrong man, according to some of the participants.
The man under investigation "is a nice person," one parent said. "The kids really like him and don't think what he is doing is wrong. My daughter would kill me if she knew I was talking to the press. She likes him."
All of the parents who were interviewed asked that their names not be published, because they said it was "a delicate situation" in which pupils or others with differing views might retaliate against them in some way.
Frank Scelsa, president of the teachers' union at Lewiston-Porter, said in an open letter last weekend that "anonymous allegations" are "perversions of the truth" and that fears of retribution are "unfounded and absurd." He has refused to comment directly on the investigation, however.
The investigation was disclosed last week by Donald Yates, acting superintendent. He said the district's concern was to protect the children.
"The incident happened several months ago . . . It is a personnel matter and I am interested in seeing that due process is given in this matter," Yates said.
Robert M. Walker, the school district's attorney for personnel matters, said it was "not a sexual misconduct case . . . The problem with raising this issue in the press is that the anonymous sources can say whatever they please, but nobody in the district can say anything. We have to remain silent. We can never discuss any matter under investigation unless charges were preferred and then only if the employee determines they want a public hearing."
Parents said about 20 to 30 girls in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades have been questioned during the investigation.
"In my daughter's comments to the attorney, she said the teacher has patted her on the behind and put his arm around her shoulder," one parent said. "He had also rubbed her shoulders and cupped her neck. But, according to my daughter, everything was in a friendly and joking manner, not sexual at all. I don't know, though. Teachers are not supposed to be that friendly. I don't think they should be touching the students at all."
Some of the parents said they later received letters from Yates saying that efforts had been made to contact the parents before pupils were interviewed.
"It's hard to believe that parents need to give parental permission for their child to attend a dance, but not to conduct a legal hearing," one of them said.
Some of the parents appeared to be more upset by the way the investigation is being conducted than by whatever allegations may have been made about the teacher.