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Panel tables action on license of West Fargo teacher accused of having sexual relationship with student

BISMARCK - North Dakota's teacher licensing board voted unanimously Tuesday not to take action on the license of the state's 2014 Teacher of the Year before criminal charges accusing him of having a sexual relationship with a student are resolved.

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Aaron Knodel

BISMARCK – North Dakota’s teacher licensing board voted unanimously Tuesday not to take action on the license of the state’s 2014 Teacher of the Year before criminal charges accusing him of having a sexual relationship with a student are resolved.

Aaron Knodel was charged Aug. 22 in Cass County District Court with five counts of felony corruption or solicitation of a minor. He’s accused of allegedly engaging in sexual acts with a then 17-year-old student in his West Fargo High School classroom, at his home and in her car, starting in 2008.

Knodel has denied the allegations through his attorney. He faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

The West Fargo School Board placed the 35-year-old English teacher on paid leave in February while authorities investigated the allegations, then suspended him without pay or benefits Aug. 25 after he was charged. West Fargo Superintendent David Flowers informed the state licensing board about Knodel’s suspension in a letter received Aug. 29.

Under state law, the licensing board must immediately revoke the teaching license of someone found guilty of a crime against a child or a sexual offense.

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The board’s legal counsel, Assistant Attorney General Sandra Voller, told members Tuesday that they could try to suspend Knodel’s license by offering a settlement agreement asking him to voluntarily surrender it. But if he didn’t agree to it, the board would have to follow through by taking the matter before an administrative law judge, she said.

“And I just don’t think we have the evidence to do that right now, and that would be very costly to the board,” Voller said, adding, “My recommendation is since he’s not teaching, there’s really no need to put his license under suspension right now.”

Janet Welk, executive director of the licensing board, said one concern might be that even though Knodel isn’t teaching, he still has a valid license and could go to a different school district or across the border into Minnesota.

But board members Karen Christensen of Wishek and Kim Belgarde of Horace, the board’s teacher representative, both advocated letting the court process play out before taking action.

“I always think he is innocent until proven guilty,” Belgarde said.

“I think it’s been publicized enough that administrators know that this is going on,” Christensen said.

During Knodel’s first court appearance on Sept. 5, a judge set his bail at $10,000 but released him on a promise to appear at future court hearings. He’s scheduled for a preliminary hearing Nov. 5, at which time he may enter a plea.

Related Topics: CRIMEEDUCATION
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