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Fargo School Board votes to discharge South High teacher

Kevin Kennedy, who teaches English, theater and performing arts, was hired by the district in 2013.

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The Fargo School Board meets on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, to consider the termination of Fargo South High School teacher Kevin Kennedy.
David Olson
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FARGO — After a bit of procedural confusion Tuesday evening, June 21, the Fargo School Board voted in special session to "discharge for cause" a South High teacher.

Kevin Kennedy, who teaches English, theater and performing arts, was hired by the district in 2013.

Doug Andring, the district's human resources director, had earlier recommended in Kennedy's personnel file that he be discharged for inappropriate, overly personal and highly suggestive comments to students, as well as for inappropriately touching students.

Kennedy has said allegations that have been made against him were not true, according to his personnel file.

The school board met in closed session for most of the day Tuesday, going back into public session Tuesday evening to vote on whether or not to discharge Kennedy.

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At that point in the proceedings, board member Robin Nelson said that based on what was learned during the closed session, she felt it necessary to recuse herself from voting on any questions for conflict of interest reasons and she said she was removing herself from further participation in the special session as well.

Board member Jim Johnson said based on what he learned during the closed session — that another teacher confirmed Kennedy walked into a student changing room unannounced — he would make a motion that the board discharge Kennedy for cause.

Board member Jennifer Benson then moved that the question be tabled to allow the board to go back into executive session, stating she felt the hearing had been unfair to Kennedy because witnesses did not appear, depriving Kennedy of the ability to cross examine them.

"I feel this was really an unfair trial," Benson said.

The board then voted 4-3 to go back into executive session, with Benson, Nickie Gullickson, Seth Holden and Rebecca Knutson voting to do so, while Johnson, Tracie Newman and Brian Nelson voted no.

Robin Nelson did not vote on that question.

Before the board went back into executive session around 7:40 p.m., Knutson, the board's president, reminded the board that what was talked about in executive session was not to be discussed during the public portion of the meeting.

The board went back into public session about 8:15 p.m. and voted on the question of whether or not to discharge Kennedy for cause.

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At that point, the vote was 7-0 to do so, with Robin Nelson absent.

Kennedy has the option of appealing the decision to the district court.

Kennedy's personnel file includes documents that say he acknowledged inserting himself into personal relationships between students, including asking students if they took and sent nude photographs, provided opinions as to who students should date and tried to set students up on dates.

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Kevin Kennedy, Fargo South High School teacher.
Fargo Public Schools website

Seven witnesses, including students, were interviewed during the district's investigation, and all witnesses said they felt Kennedy made comments that made them uncomfortable, according to the investigation report in Kennedy’s personnel file.

On March 10, South High Assistant Principal Shannon Mortrud received an initial complaint against Kennedy.

A student stated that Kennedy inappropriately crossed boundaries, including by asking if a student was a virgin, according to the personnel file.

In interviews conducted by Mortrud, other students reported that Kennedy had grabbed students by their shirts, told a student she would be pregnant by the time she was 15, and asked other students if they sent nude photographs.

Prior to Tuesday's hearing, which was presided over by an administrative law judge, Andring recommended to Superintendent Rupak Gandhi that the district discharge Kennedy f or "immoral conduct," "conduct unbecoming the position," and "gross inefficiency" that he failed to correct after receiving written notice.

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State law governs hearings like the one that was held Tuesday.

Rules state that unless otherwise agreed to by the board and the individual involved, the administrative law judge must close such hearings, except for the parties involved, their legal representatives and three witnesses requested by the individual and three witnesses requested by the board.

Neither Kennedy nor his attorney could immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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