Police accuse former Austin, Eanes principal of luring girls for sex

9:09 p.m Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017 Local

A principal who spent two decades in schools across Central Texas now stands accused of soliciting young girls for sex, the Phoenix-area Pinal County sheriff’s office said, prompting investigators to question whether there were any incidents of impropriety here.

Karl Waggoner was arrested Tuesday near Four Peaks Elementary School in Arizona, where he had just begun his job as principal this summer, the sheriff’s office said. Waggoner is charged with luring a minor for sex, Arizona records show.

Waggoner has no prior criminal history or arrests, and Central Texas district officials said school records give no indication of complaints against him or accusations of inappropriate conduct.

His arrest comes as a new state law that took effect Friday makes it more difficult for such improprieties to stay hidden. Principals and superintendents who intentionally hide improper relationships between students and teachers will now face jail time. The law also allows teachers to be charged with an improper relationship with a student regardless of where the student attends school, and educator licenses would be revoked automatically for those required to register as sex offenders and those who receive deferred adjudication of guilt for misconduct.

Authorities in Arizona said they found online ads believed to have been posted by Waggoner soliciting young girls to go skinny-dipping with him at his home, the sheriff’s office said. After finding the ads, a Pinal County sheriff’s office detective conducted an undercover investigation, pretending to be a 14-year-old girl, and began communicating with Waggoner.

Waggoner engaged in “sexually inappropriate conversations” and “discussed engaging in sexual acts” with the undercover detective and provided sexually explicit photos, the sheriff’s office said.

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb said investigators contacted Texas authorities both before and after Waggoner’s arrest. Lamb said he isn’t aware of any ongoing investigations concerning Waggoner, who worked in the Round Rock, Eanes and Austin school districts, but that his agency has been in touch with Round Rock police and the Texas attorney general office’s internet crimes against children task force.

“We want to make sure they are aware of what’s going on out here,” Lamb said. “We are making them aware of what we have, and we have extended our services to them in case they do have something. We are all about protecting our residents, and especially the children in our community. Any time we have something like this come up, we want to make sure there are no other victims out there, and not just here in our county, and not just here in our state.”

18 years in Eanes schools

The number of Texas teachers investigated for improper relationships with a student climbed 80 percent from 2009 to 2016. Last year, the state reported 222 such complaints. Yet more than half of the teachers who lost their licenses or had them suspended for improper relationships were never criminally charged.

Waggoner, who started in the Eanes district in 1995, worked as an assistant principal and principal in Eanes for nearly 18 years (he left for one year to work in the private sector). But Waggoner left after he lost a grievance against the district in late 2012. Waggoner had been removed as the former West Ridge Middle School principal after nine years on the job and reassigned as assistant principal at Westlake High School. His complaint asked for reinstatement as the West Ridge principal or financial compensation for the loss of that position, but then-Superintendent Nola Wellman denied his requests. The school board upheld her decision.

The next school year, Waggoner went to work for the Austin district for a year as the Anderson High School assistant principal, then served for two months as the school’s academy director before landing a job as principal of Hopewell Middle School in the Round Rock district. Waggoner left Hopewell in August 2016, before the start of the school year, after requesting a reassignment and being named associate director of administrative projects, a position at central administration. Waggoner left the Round Rock district this year and recently had been hired as principal at Four Peaks Elementary in Arizona.

District officials in Austin, Eanes and Round Rock said there is no indication Waggoner engaged in any inappropriate conduct during his time within those school systems.

The American-Statesman has filed open records requests with the Austin and Round Rock school districts for Waggoner’s personnel files, but the Round Rock district hadn’t released the information by deadline. The Eanes district agreed to provide copies of the personnel files, but hadn’t done so by deadline Wednesday.

However, they ask anyone with information to contact police and the districts.

Austin district officials said, “There were no disciplinary actions while he was employed” in the district.

“We are shocked to hear of the arrest of former Principal Karl Waggoner in Arizona,” Eanes Superintendent Tom Leonard said in a letter to families on Wednesday. “At no time during his approximately 18 years in Eanes ISD was there any indication of inappropriate behavior with students. Prior to his hire, he passed all criminal background checks, and during his tenure, he had no record of inappropriate behavior with minors or criminal history.”

Waggoner is still an employee with the Arizona school district but isn’t performing any job duties for the district while the investigation continues, the Arizona school district wrote in a letter to parents. An assistant principal at a nearby school will take over Waggoner’s job.

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