WEST FARGO – The 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the Year, Aaron Knodel, will return to work Wednesday as a teacher for Sheyenne High School, almost a year after he was suspended over criminal charges alleging he had a sexual relationship with a student.
"I'm happy for him that he can get back to work," said Patti Stedman, the School Board president.
Last August, Knodel was accused of having a sexual relationship with a student in 2009, when he was 29 and the student was 17. He was charged in Cass County District Court with five felony counts of corruption or solicitation of minor. He was acquitted on three counts in an April trial, and two other counts were later dismissed.
His accuser, Maggie Wilkin, staged a protest last week outside West Fargo High School after the School Board reinstated Knodel. She declined to comment for this story.
When the School Board unanimously decided to retain Knodel, and pay him about 11 months of back pay for the time he was on administrative leave, school officials said they weren't sure if he'd return to the classroom as a teacher.
But Knodel will teach English, as he did before, a spokeswoman for the school district, Heather Konschak, said Tuesday. Konschak did not say whether Knodel would continue to coach speech and other extracurriculars, such as the Student Congress and trivia teams.
"At this time, all we know is that he's going to be an English teacher for us," she said. She did not say how many classes he would teach.
Knodel will be treated like any other teacher upon his return, with no extra supervision, she said.
Asked if any students had requested to not be taught by Knodel, Konschak said she did not know, and said that kind of information would probably not be released. But she said that "if anyone had any kind of concern," students could request to opt out of Knodel's class.
Knodel will teach at Sheyenne, instead of West Fargo High School where he had taught before, because "it's where there was an available space for him," Konschak said.
The principal of Sheyenne High School, Greg Grooters, declined to comment.
Knodel couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.
Though he wasn't convicted, the state licensing board had a split vote on whether to consider any action against Knodel's teaching license. At least one board member said he was concerned about the evidence submitted at trial that showed nearly 100 calls in late 2008 and early 2009 between Knodel and his accuser, including 23 after 10 p.m. and six after midnight, including one that lasted four hours.
District Superintendent David Flowers, in his recommendation to the School Board backing Knodel's return from administrative leave, said a district push for one-on-one mentoring helped explain the frequent phone calls.
But Flowers also suggested the district establish new rules for contact between students and teachers, a policy that hasn't been adopted yet.