Lawsuit Reveals New Details About Walkout Leader’s Sexting Case

Friday, 08 March 2024 07:30

Lawsuit Reveals New Details About Walkout Leader’s Sexting Case Featured

Written by Jennifer Palmer, OklahomaWatch
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Within three years, Alberto Morejon went from one of the most well-known and celebrated teachers in Oklahoma for his instrumental role in the teacher walkout to inmate number 877723, incarcerated for sexting one of his students beginning when she was 14.

Stillwater Public Schools, where Morejon taught from 2015 to 2020, recently settled a civil lawsuit brought by that student. The district has kept details of the agreement confidential. 

School board members held a special meeting Nov. 6 to discuss the lawsuit and, following a closed session lasting more than an hour, voted to approve any resolution reached in mediation and to authorize the superintendent or district’s attorney to proceed as discussed in the executive session, records show.

The district’s records clerk said the district doesn’t have a copy of the agreement and neither does the school board. The district also doesn’t have any record of payment to the plaintiff or her attorney, indicating the district’s insurance will pay the settlement. 

That lack of public information likely means the payout is less than $1 million, said Cameron Spradling, an Oklahoma City attorney who has represented the victims in several school abuse cases but does not represent the former Stillwater student.  

“We’re never going to get rid of predators,” Spradling said, but pursuing civil lawsuits against schools is one way to hold enablers accountable, as well as help victims pay for counseling or therapy.  

Oklahoma Watch is not naming the student because she is a victim of sexual abuse. 

Public court records filed in the lawsuit shed new light on Morejon’s drastic and shocking fall from grace. 

Odd Behavior

An attorney for the student argued that as early as the 2017-18 school year there were signs Morejon posed a danger to female students. 

Students frequently gathered in his classroom during his lunch period; they were mostly girls, but also baseball players from the team he coached. According to deposition transcripts, colleagues took notice, occasionally remarking about what they called his harem or entourage. Students often bent school rules to bring him chocolate milk, his favorite. 

Staff described that as odd, but “not odd enough to be crossing any lines,” Crystal Syzmanski, principal of Stillwater Junior High School, wrote in an internal memo in April 2021, nearly a year after Morejon’s arrest. 

But he was crossing lines. Morejon allowed the student to sit behind his desk. He let her sleep there, during class. He entered grades for work she didn’t complete. When they talked, he sometimes touched her thighs. 

And he started messaging her privately, first on Instagram, then on Snapchat, a social media platform that has a feature that makes messages disappear after they are read. 

He started sending her sexually explicit photos, such as so-called imprint pictures of his boxer shorts covering his erect penis. And he asked her to send photos of herself, according to the lawsuit, filed Jan. 10, 2022, in federal court.

Morejon Helped Organize a Statewide Walkout 

Meanwhile, educators’ discontent with school funding and stagnant pay was building across the state. Whispers of a possible strike began to spread. About that time, Morejon created a Facebook group called “Oklahoma Teacher Walkout — The Time is Now!” in early 2018. Within days, the group swelled to 75,000 members. 

By March, the group had galvanized teachers across the state. Soon, Morejon picked the walkout date: April 2. The Oklahoma Educators Association wanted to push it into May, allowing more time to organize. But Morejon’s date stuck. 

On April 2, 2018, thousands of educators descended on the state Capitol for a demonstration that ultimately lasted 10 days. Morejon conducted interviews with national media outlets and stood alongside Oklahoma Educators Association officials at press conferences. 

When the walkout ended, Morejon’s influence on education policy didn’t. He continued to lead the Facebook group, posting about legislation and political candidates, until 2020, when his social media accounts abruptly disappeared. The Facebook group, an online community for tens of thousands of educators, was handed off to Jami Cole, then a 5th grade math teacher in Duncan.

News of Morejon’s arrest answered why he erased his public profile. His student had reported him to the police. Police confirmed his identity, in part, by the American Eagle brand boxer shorts the student said he always wore.  

In a deposition taken July 25, Morejon declined to answer questions, citing his rights under the 5th Amendment, which protects people from self-incrimination, according to a partial transcript filed in the civil lawsuit.

A Popular Teacher

Stillwater Public Schools, like all others across the state, was not in session in June 2020, when Morejon resigned from his teaching position. But district leaders did little to investigate whether any other students were involved, the student’s attorneys alleged in her lawsuit. 

One other student did come forward with a report to police on May 27, 2020. Prosecutors later dropped that case after the woman declined to cooperate. 

Stillwater schools had in place a policy governing teachers’ social media use that prohibits inappropriate contact with students. It doesn’t prohibit staff from friending students on social media platforms but they aren’t allowed to send messages with sexual content. 

Superintendent Uwe Gordon and Board Chairman Tim Riley declined to be interviewed. In court filings, attorneys argued the school district didn’t know Morejon maintained an inappropriate relationship with the student until after his arrest.

“The fact that Mr. Morejon was a popular teacher who had students — both males and females — coming in and out of his class on a regular basis is not the type of conduct to put the school district on notice that Mr. Morejon was sending sexually explicit messages to a student,” the district’s court filing states.

When the student returned to school, students ridiculed her for having reported Morejon; he had just been voted the students’ favorite teacher. She said in a court affidavit students harassed her online, and she felt targeted by staff, too. Her volleyball coach moved her from the varsity team to the junior varsity team, and her principal banned her from keeping an animal in the Future Farmers of America barn. 

The school, in its response, said the student was disciplined for bringing a boy who decided to rope a chicken into a school barn but was not kicked out of the program.

She withdrew from the district in the fall of 2021.

A Guilty Plea

In the summer of 2021, Morejon pleaded guilty to engaging in sexual communication with a minor. A judge sentenced him to five years in prison, followed by five years of probation. 

He was released from prison in May, after less than 2 years behind bars. A Department of Corrections spokeswoman said Morejon earned early release with credits for good behavior. He is required to register as a sex offender.  

Oklahoma Watch attempted to reach Morejon while incarcerated and since his release, by phone and email. He has not responded. 

Morejon is one of 50 educators stripped of their teaching licenses by the state Board of Education since 2020. 

Several others have also drawn civil lawsuits against their districts. 

Students sued Salina Public Schools over math teacher John Q. Horner III, alleging the school district allowed Horner access to children for years after learning he abused them, The Oklahoman reported. The school agreed to pay $2.6 million. The first $1 million will be paid by the district or another entity on its behalf, indicating it will come from insurance, and the rest will be paid over three years by the school.

Kingfisher Public Schools recently settled a lawsuit for $5 million over accusations of abuse and hazing in its football program. The student who sued described being beaten with wet towels, forced into locker room fights, shocked with a stun gun, forced to wear a urine-soaked helmet, hit during practice, and sexually assaulted, The Oklahoman reported

The district will pay $1.25 million from its general fund and the remaining $3.75 million through ad valorem taxes over three years. The lawsuit wasn’t covered by liability insurance because the policy was insolvent then.

 

Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public-policy issues facing the state.

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