By Jeremy Schwartz and Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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Meredith Claire Powell, 24, pleaded not guilty Friday in Pierce County Superior Court to the rape charges and to one count of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes after her arrest Thursday in Tacoma.
The students were between 14 and 16 years old, Superior Court records say.
Powell, a mathmatics teacher at Lincoln High School in the Tacoma School District since September 2012, was released on her own recognizance and ordered to stay with her mother in Sequim.
She is set to appear in Pierce County Superior Court on Feb. 25.
Prosecutors say Powell admitted to Tacoma police that she had sexual contact with two of her students between Jan. 17 and 24.
They allege that on Jan. 17, one student went to Powell’s Lincoln High School classroom instead of attending an assembly and the two kissed and “engaged in sexual activity.”
A few days later, Powell is accused of performing oral sex on another teen.
Prosecutors allege Powell sent a teen a photo of herself naked in a bathtub.
They say she told police she sent a third student an inappropriate text message, for which she later apologized to the student.
Powell told police she knew what she had done was wrong and that she would apologize to the students’ parents if she had the chance, according to Superior Court records.
The court ordered that she must have no contact with the three students involved or minors.
Tacoma School District spokesman Dan Voelpel said Powell was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday after the district had received an anonymous tip the day before alleging that Powell had had inappropriate sexual contact with students.
The leave became unpaid after her arrest by Tacoma police, Voelpel said, adding that district officials immediately told police about the tip.
“Until the criminal case is concluded, she will remain on unpaid leave,” Voelpel said.
Powell grew up in Sequim, graduating from Sequim High School in 2007, and attended Olympic Peninsula Academy, a Sequim School District program providing educational materials and facilities for home-schooled children, according to information gleaned from Sequim High School yearbooks for 2005, 2006 and 2007.
In her senior year, Powell was vice president of the school’s honor society, according to the yearbook information, and was a member of the school’s swim and golf teams throughout high school in addition to being a member of various other clubs.
Kelly Shea, superintendent of the Sequim School District, said Powell worked as a substitute teacher at Sequim High in the spring of 2012.
Shea said he has no record of student complaints against her.
A person is guilty of rape of a child in the third degree when the person has sexual intercourse with another who is between 14 and 16 years old, is not married to the perpetrator, and the perpetrator is at least 48 months older than the victim.
It is a class C felony.
A “Free Powell” Facebook page was created some time after her arrest and had accumulated 405 “likes” as of Saturday morning.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at email@example.com.