Santa Clara Jail
Curtis William Payne

SALT LAKE CITY — A longtime teacher at Sunset Elementary School in St. George has been charged with sexually assaulting a student while in the classroom during the 1990s.

Curtis William Payne, 59, of Santa Clara, was charged Wednesday in 5th District Court with three counts of aggravated sex abuse of a child, a first-degree felony.

According to charging documents, a woman told investigators that sometime in the 1990s when she was in fourth grade, Payne would have her sit on his lap behind his desk and inappropriately touch her. On several other occasions, Payne would put on a movie for the class, turn out the lights, sit next to the young girl and inappropriately touch her, the charges state.

When interviewed by police, Payne said he remembered the girl as being one of his students in the late 1990s, "but denied the allegations," according to charging documents.

Washington County Deputy District Attorney Ryan Shaum said Wednesday that he could not discuss evidence in the case, but noted it was more than a "he said, she said" situation.

"There is more than just her statement that the police department is relying on that we ultimately would rely on," he said. "I can only say that is not the sole evidence we have."

Shaum said the investigation into whether there are additional victims was continuing.

Payne, who is currently a choir teacher at Sunrise Ridge Intermediate School, was arrested Tuesday night and immediately placed on administrative leave by the district.

Payne had taught at Sunset Elementary from 1986 until just recently, according to Washington County School District spokesman Steve Dunham. This was his 32nd year of teaching in the district, he said.

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Dunham said district officials are "shocked" at the arrest.

"This is not the guy that we knew," he said.

But Dunham added the top priority for the district now is the students.

"We're sick about this. We want to create a safe environment for our kids," he said. "Our concern is solely for the victims here. We want people that are feeling pain to come out and speak to the detectives and begin the healing process."

An initial appearance in court was scheduled for Thursday.