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Arlington: Highland Christian School principal fired amid child rape allegations

ARLINGTON Highland Christian School Principal Mark Brown was fired July 25, after further allegations surfaced in the wake of his being charged with the rape of a child in the third degree in Snohomish County Superior Court July 23, and posting bond on a $100,000 bail.

Brown, 37, was hired by Highland as their principal three years ago, when the school was called Master's Touch Christian School. According to charging papers by Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe, Brown had sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old Highland student June 12, after encouraging her to run away from home, and promising her a place to stay at the school.

Prosecutors allege that, on June 12, Brown arranged for another person to bring the girl to the school, where he had prepared a little-used room, complete with a hide-a-bed and TV. Court papers charge that Brown met her at the school the next morning, where he provided her with Bacardi rum, kissed her body and put his hand down her pants.

The girl's parents contacted police, since they didn't know where their daughter was, and discovered hundreds of phone calls and text messages to and from Brown on her cell phone. Detectives located the girl four days later, by tracing the prepaid phone she'd had when she ran away, but she denied there had been any intercourse between her and Brown, until July 21, when she described the details above to her mother.

Detectives told prosecutors that Brown and the girl exchanged nearly 700 text messages and phone calls, including three phone calls made after the girl's family obtained an order of protection precluding Brown from having any further contact with her. The girl said that Brown instructed her not to tell anyone about their sexual contact, and estimated that one phone call lasted as long as 45 minutes.

Brown was initially arrested for harboring the girl July 9, but bailed out. He was then arraigned on the new charge of third-degree child rape after her statement, with the $100,000 bail requested as a result of his continued contact with the girl.

Superior Court Judge Eric Lucas ordered Brown not to have any contact with the girl, or with any other minor children unless their parents are aware of the charge.

Highland Christian School Board Secretary Kristin Sande, who has three children attending the school, read a statement at the Snohomish County Courthouse July 23, expressing the school board and staff's support for Brown. Brown was then placed on administrative leave, but school board members announced on their Web site July 25 that they were firing him after learning more about the situation.

Linda Wallitner, the school's office manager, said the decision was made July 24, but emphasized that Brown's firing did not constitute a statement of opinion about his guilt or innocence, since he "broke some of the rules" in his contract with the school.

Further allegations

Brown's ex-wife, Darrington resident Casey West, approached the news media and Snohomish County detectives July 24, to tell them that she divorced Brown in 2004 after finding out that he'd traded numerous text messages with a cheerleader at Concrete High School.

West started dating Brown in 1996, when she was 14 and he was 26. In spite of her family's misgivings, she married Brown in 2002, when she was 20. Finding out about the text messages between Brown, who was then 33, and the high school girl caused West to reevaluate her relationship with Brown.

West said that fears of embarrassing her family had kept her from telling her story to Highland Christian School officials.

Steve Williams, a spokesperson for the state Department of Social and Health Services, reported that Concrete High School officials had contacted Child Protective Services four years ago, when Brown was a wrestling coach there, and allegations were made of him having "sexual contact with several female students." Brown was subsequently released from his contract with the school.

State law requires state-approved private schools such as Highland to do background checks on employees. However, information about a criminal investigation that doesn't result in a conviction, such as the case in Concrete, is only shared with other police agencies, and is not provided to school districts, according to Deborah Collinsworth with the Washington State Patrol.

Rebecca Hover, public information officer with the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office, noted that Snohomish County prosecutors would look into this Skagit County case as background for their own case, but emphasized that the Skagit County case "is not our case. We're not the ones investigating it."

Roe noted that detectives are investigating Brown's history with previous employers, but the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has no plans to open an investigation of its own, because the state doesn't regulate private schools, according to spokesperson Shirley Skidmore.

The Skagit County Sheriff's Office declined to comment for this story, and Brown's attorney, Karen Halverson, could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Arlington business owner, Jeanne Watanabe is the parent of a Highland Christian School student.

"Whatever else happens, I can only hope that this situation doesn't overshadow the education these students are getting, and the environment they're getting it in, both of which are excellent," Watanabe said.

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