Suspended substitute teacher Aleksandr Plehanov has been acquitted of charges that he sexually assaulted five young female students in Coquitlam.

Plehanov was accused of sitting seven and eight-year-old girls on his lap and touching them inappropriately between 2008 and 2010, but Provincial Court Judge David St. Pierre ruled Monday that Crown prosecutors had failed to prove there was a sexual purpose behind the classroom interactions.

“I have no doubt that [students] sat on Mr. Plehanov’s lap in their respective classes,” St. Pierre wrote in his decision Monday. “It is however impossible to conclude, after considering all of the evidence, the nature of any further contact, if any… and whether this contact was incidental or could be properly characterized and proven as criminal.”

St. Pierre said a certain degree of physical contact is expected while teaching students the age of the alleged victims, and that a reasonable person might not consider sitting a child on a teacher’s lap inappropriate, depending on the pupil’s age.

The judge also found much of the evidence at trial unreliable, though he noted that the children who testified had done so “in as honest a fashion as they could under the circumstances.”

He acquitted Plehanov of all 10 counts of sexual assault and sexual interference.

One of the alleged victim’s mothers told reporters outside the courthouse that despite the outcome, the case may provoke positive change in the way school district’s handle assault complaints.

“We are disappointed but not surprised,” said the parent, who cannot be identified because of a publication ban. “However I think children, districts, parents need to be aware that looking ahead, I think, this was not a waste of time.”

Parents previously raised concerns about the amount of time it took for the district to alert police to the allegations against Plehanov. One father told CTV News that Mounties only found out about the situation after he called them in March 2010, six months after complaints were first lodged to the board.

Plehanov’s lawyer Lisa Jean Helps said her client was relieved at the verdict, but could not say whether he will try to continue his teaching career.

“He is of course ecstatic. He has maintained his innocence from the beginning and he’s very happy today,” Helps said.

Despite his acquittal, Plehanov may still have breached the Teacher Regulation Board’s code of conduct. The board’s investigation into the complaints is ongoing.

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Lisa Rossington