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ND teacher of the year charged with 5 counts of corruption or solicitation of minors

WEST FARGO – The 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the Year has been charged with five counts of corruption or solicitation of minors.

The five felony counts were filed Friday in Cass County District Court against Aaron Knodel, a decorated West Fargo High School English teacher and coach who has been on paid administrative leave since February pending a criminal investigation.

The school district is holding a news conference at 4:15 today at the Leidal Education Center, 207 Main Avenue West in West Fargo.

Knodel had been under criminal investigation since at least Feb. 21, according to West Fargo School District memos The Forum obtained through a recent open records request.

When contacted by phone last week, Knodel declined comment on the matter.

West Fargo Schools Superintendent David Flowers wrote to School Board members on Feb. 21 to tell them an investigator had informed him a teacher was being investigated for a possible crime.

West Fargo Police Chief Michael Reitan confirmed a case involving a West Fargo schools staff member had been forwarded to the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Citing an open investigation, Reitan declined to discuss the nature of the case or the staff member’s role in it.

Knodel’s open case and long absence from West Fargo High School has created a conundrum for the district with school starting Aug. 25.

The reigning state teacher of the year and coach of the school’s speech and debate teams, Congress and History Bee has been absent from the school since Feb. 19, according to records showing substitute teachers placed in his room through school year’s end.

Flowers said last week the district will soon need to decide if Knodel can return to school this fall.

Flowers notified the West Fargo School Board on Feb. 21 that “an investigation into a certified staff member who we have placed on administrative leave is ongoing.”

On Feb. 28, in an update to the board, Flowers wrote, “a school district employee under investigation for possible criminal conduct remains on administrative leave.” He said an investigator contacted him and it appears there may be some conclusion to the investigation in the next week.

But the latest written update from Flowers dated June 17 said there was no new information about the investigation.

Last week, Flowers told The Forum he still had not heard of any change in the ongoing investigation.

“I keep hearing something may happen soon, but nothing does,” Flowers said. “This has been going on for six months.”

Check back for an update on this developing story.

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