*editor’s note: this story mentions acts of sexual violence
Frances Danger/Mvskoke Media Contributor
“Can I pull your hair?”
It’s a question that a 60-year-old faculty member asked an 18-year-old student in the halls of Morris High School in Morris, Oklahoma.
The Morris School District is located within the boundaries of the Mvskoke Nation Reservation. As of 2017 it boasted an enrollment of 1,026 students, 28.9% of which were Native American, spread across Morris Elementary (Pre-K-5), Morris Middle School (6-8), and Morris High School (9-12). It’s a district in flux, having been rocked by the arrest of longtime Morris High School teacher Dallas Tyler Ewton in July 2021 and the resignation of the Morris High School Principal, who is also Dallas Ewton’s father, Andrew “Buck” or “Bucky” Ewton.
Dallas Ewton was charged in federal district court with Aggravated Sexual Abuse, Sexual Abuse of a Minor or Ward, and Abusive Sexual Contact of a Minor or a Ward. He is accused of sexually assaulting a female student while on school grounds and during school sponsored activities over a period of 4 years, starting when the student was 11 years old. Teachers interviewed during the FBI investigation admitted to hearing rumors of some sort of relationship between Ewton and the student, with two teachers stating they would not feel comfortable with their daughters taking Ewton’s class and that they would have them take it online instead. One teacher observed Ewton slap a female student on the buttocks then pick her up and carry her as if over a threshold. It is unknown if prior to the FBI interviews the teachers reported any of their concerns to their superiors.
It was in this climate of toxic silence that on April 26, 2021 Natalie Parker walked down a hallway she’d been down countless times before. A proud Mvskoke Nation citizen, Natalie was wearing her hair in two braids in traditional Native style, when Clayton Swem, the In School Detention Monitor whom Parker did not know, stopped her and asked if he could put his hands on her to commit an act of violence.
“Can I pull your hair?” Swem asked again.
“You want to pull my hair?” Parker replied.
“Yes. I’ve never got to pull pigtails like that before.”
Shocked, Parker told him that was his problem and walked away, the echoes of his laughter following her down the hall.
This was not the first time Swem has allegedly acted inappropriately in the presence of students. Another parent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, spoke with their children in April 2021 regarding Swem’s conduct as ISD Monitor. Initially their children did not want to talk about anything that might have been said because they were embarrassed. It was eventually disclosed that Swem made it a habit of taking inappropriate personal phone calls from a woman in front of the ISD class. Among the things Swem was purported to have said in front of ISD students: that he was “going to give you the bone when I get home” and other sexually explicit talk including using his tongue and toys on her.
The inappropriate conduct was not confined to phone calls however. Swem reportedly asked female students if he could pull on their hair because his wife wouldn’t let him and commented on how females were dressed by stating he wished his wife would dress like them and give him a sneak peek like they did.
In his capacity as ISD Monitor Swem oversees students from grades 6 to 12, any one of whom could have been exposed to these supposed inappropriate conversations.
The parent spoke with Morris Middle School Principal Heather Adams and informed her of the situation. Adams stated she would take care of it, though there was no mention of this to Superintendent Chris Karch who was at that time ostensibly the Title IX Coordinator.
Shortly thereafter, their children were being assigned to ISD more frequently than before they informed the school of the issue. The students were so uncomfortable with Swem that at the beginning of 2021-22 school year, the parent met with the newly hired Morris High School Principal Kevin Younger and informed him there were previous issues with Swem and that under no circumstances were their children to be sent to ISD. It was at that point ISD disciplinary measures for their children ceased.
Swem has a disturbing history outside of school as well. In 1984 he was arrested and convicted of Indecent Exposure in Pueblo, Colorado for which he served 10 days. While on probation for that charge Swem was charged with Robbery, Attempted First Degree Sexual Assault, Soliciting A Juvenile For Prostitution, Indecent Exposure, Armed Robbery, Third Degree Sexual Assault, and Crime of Violence in Colorado Springs.
Those charges stemmed from encounters on October 18, 1984 in which Swem allegedly fondled a 15 year old student at Mitchell High School. Earlier that day Swem allegedly offered to pay two teens, ages 15 and 16, for sex. According to the girls they ran away when Swem grabbed one of them between her legs.
Swem pled guilty to a single Robbery charge in exchange for the dismissal of the other charges, a plea deal Deputy District Attorney Dennis Lane offered to spare the alleged survivors the “embarrassment” of a trial.
According to testimony reported by The Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph on October 15, 1984 Swem refused to let a teenage passenger out of his car, asking her to have sex with him after showing her a knife that he placed underneath his seat. She was eventually able to escape by convincing Swem that she needed to use the restroom, at which point she ran away. Swem threw her purse, which he’d intentionally kept, after her.
Swem was convicted of the robbery charge on March 11, 1985 and sentenced to 4 years in the medium security Territorial Correctional Facility. He was released before serving the full sentence but had a parole violation in 1986, reentering the CDOC in 1987 to serve the rest of his term.
After the encounter with Swem, Parker immediately called her mother Marissa Lewis. Lewis, who has extensive knowledge of the Title IX civil rights law that prohibits sex based discrimination in schools receiving federal funding which includes incidents of sexual harassment, contacted the then principal, Bucky Ewton, and asked for an investigation into Swem’s alleged sexual harassment. She also requested that her daughter be released from school for the rest of the day as she no longer felt safe at school due to Swem’s conduct.
Despite Lewis’ request and the Title IX requirement that the school district policy for sexual harassment be followed Parker was not sent home nor was the Title IX Coordinator informed. She was instead brought into a meeting with Principal Bucky Ewton and Guidance Counselor Kristy Walker.
According to a recording made by Parker that was reviewed by Mvskoke Media, Principal Ewton asked her to repeat what had occurred. She reiterated the story and made clear the interaction made her uncomfortable. Ewton then advised her that he wanted to bring in Swem to explain what he meant. Parker did not feel as if she had a choice in the matter so she hesitantly agreed.
In the recording you can hear the door open and Ewton is heard addressing Swem, who asks what is going on. Ewton tells him to come into the room without any further details.
“Are you serious? Oh mercy,” Swem states in an agitated manner upon entering the room and seeing Parker, who maintains Swem never sat down nor was he asked to by either of the other administrators in the room.
Ewton explains that Parker had a concern and in order to resolve the issue he was brought in to explain what his meaning was. What follows is a transcript of the conversation.
Ewton: She felt uncomfortable with what was being said so I told her that to resolve this you need to tell her what your meaning was (muffled)
Swem: Sorry. It was just a comment… a comment That’s it. I was just… there was nothing to it. I mean… how embarrassing. This is ridiculous…whatever.
Ewton: Well she didn’t feel comfortable
Swem: Well I’m sorry then if it made you uncomfortable…
Ewton: I mean…
Swem: Lord help me.
Ewton: Mr. Swem tell her what you was doing when you made the comment.
Swem: I was just joking around. I was being whatever. I’m in a good mood. My wife is going to be coming home da da da da da da… I’m fairly cheerful. Can’t help it. My emotions have went up and down a little bit lately.
(to Natalie) I got kids older than you. I got grandkids older than you.
(under his breath) Lord…three more years.
[Swem exits without being excused]
Ewton: I feel and this is my own opinion, I feel he was probably just making comments.
Counselor Walker: (muffled)… Being silly
Parker: I understand that, it’s just that I don’t know him well enough for him to say that to me.
Ewton: And I understand that. I understand why it made you uncomfortable.
Counselor Walker: I don’t know why he would have said… (laugh)
Parker: Either way if it was in context or out of context…
Ewton: (muffled) He was trying to start a…the conversation. He sees kids all day. He doesn’t know them, doesn’t know your name or anything. But you had braids in your hair. There’s not a lot of students that had those okay and he found something to talk about basically.
Parker: I just think he definitely could have done it differently. Like if I like your hair I like your hair not can I pull your hair because that definitely made me feel…
Counselor Walker: odd.
Parker: …uncomfortable coming from an older white male.
Ewton: I understand. Okay and I’m sure it won’t happen again. And if it does (muffled) and I will address it (muffled)
Counselor Walker: Are you okay?
Parker: I’m okay. I just wanted to see if, you know, everything else was okay.
Ewton: Do you feel okay about it now?
Parker: Yeah. I was a little uncomfortable with the way he reacted but…
Ewton: Well, and I’m just going to say this, he was, he didn’t think anything about it and he was I’m sure really defensive because he was…
Counselor Walker: He probably forgot about it as soon as you walk by.
Ewton: He probably felt like he was being in trouble for trying to spark up a conversation. That’s pretty much it.
Counselor Walker: It was just an odd thing to say I totally agree. I would have, I mean if it was like a teacher you saw everyday and you were comfortable, If it was a different kind of relationship. But I understand where you’re coming from. You don’t know him that well. It was just odd and uncomfortable for you so I understand.
Ewton: I don’t think, I don’t think you got to worry about that.
Parker: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Ewton: Like I said If there is, let me know.
Parker: I will. Thank you.
Counselor Walker: See you later.
In instances where an issue of possible sexual harassment has been reported Title IX requires that the school immediately follow their Title IX policy, which should have been readily available on the school or district website along with the Title IX Coordinator contact information. According to federal law, the Title IX Coordinator must be informed so an investigation can begin and supportive measures provided.
At the time of the incident with Parker it appears that Morris School District had no Title IX policy in place. No policy was posted on the Morris School District site nor was there contact information for a Title IX Coordinator provided as is required.
There was a non-discrimination policy in the 2020-21 Student Handbook which states’ “MORRIS SCHOOLS NON-DISCRIMINATION POLICY (POLICY NOTIFICATION) It is the policy of the Morris Schools to provide equal opportunities without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, age, qualified handicap, or veteran in its educational programs and activities. This includes, but not limited to, admissions, educational services, financial aid, and employment. Inquiries concerning application of this policy may be referred to: Counselor, Compliance Coordinator, P.O. Box 80, Morris, Ok. 74445-0080, and (918) 733-4198.”
Per the United States Department of Education Title IX requires schools implement specific and continuing steps to inform students and others of the protections against discrimination on the basis of sex and that the requirement of non-discrimination in educational programs and activities extends to employment and admission. It must clearly state that questions about Title IX may be referred to the Title IX Coordinator, whose name, address, and telephone number must be provided, or to the assistant secretary for civil rights. The notice in the 2020-21 handbook does not appear to be sufficient to meet the Title IX requirements.
The school district attempted to address these requirements and had as of May 13, 2021 posted the contact information of the Title IX Coordinator, Superintendent Dr Chris Karch, and a PowerPoint of the Title IX training he’d received from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association but still no formal policy.
It wasn’t until the June 14, 2021 Morris School Board meeting that the Board and the school district’s attorney discussed in Executive Session a “pending investigation” about a complaint filed by a parent. On the same agenda the board was to discuss and possibly take action to approve board policies of non-discrimination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and the grievance procedure for filing, processing and resolving complaints alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation, all of which are Title IX policies.
As of the September 13, 2021 School Board meeting, the district was still discussing whether or not to approve Title IX non-discrimination policies. What the board did get around to approving were changes to the 21-22 Student Handbook, including a new provision barring students from recording audio or taking photos of both students and staff without permission. Consequences for distribution of unauthorized media include suspension and possible criminal charges.
Morris Superintendent Dr. Chris Karch was contacted for comment but did not respond by press time.
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