Months after he was acquitted on criminal charges that he had sex with a student, a West Fargo public school teacher continues to face protests from the alleged victim's family.
The uncle of Maggie Wilken, who reported having a sexual relationship with teacher Aaron Knodel six years ago when she was 17 and he was 29, stood outside the school district's administration building this week with a sign saying "Child Safety NO Knodel."
Wilken's uncle, Clarence Richard of Minnetonka, Minn., said he was protesting outside the district offices because the people inside are "the people that made this possible."
School administrators, Richard said, gave Knodel the leeway to "counsel" Richard's niece even though the teacher is "not a counselor."
Richard said teachers were not supposed to talk to students outside of class for "untold hours," as Knodel did with Wilken. Phone records presented as evidence in Knodel's trial showed nearly 100 calls with Wilken in late 2008 and early 2009, including one that lasted four hours.
The phone logs failed to persuade the jury that a crime occurred. After the April trial, Knodel was acquitted on three counts and a judge dismissed two other counts of corruption of a minor, a felony. The West Fargo School Board voted unanimously to reinstate Knodel almost a year after he was suspended, and he returned to teaching English at Sheyenne High School this school year.
The state teacher licensing board also sided with Knodel, but in a split 5 to 3 vote. Richard said Knodel's only support came from the teacher's union.
Asked what he hoped to accomplish by protesting, Richard said, "Let's start out by getting our children safe." He said he protested outside district offices on Main Street near Sheyenne Street on Monday and Tuesday, and would protest more.
In August, Wilken and two men protested against Knodel outside West Fargo High School. Eight students from Sheyenne protested in support of Knodel with signs saying, "Not guilty!" and "Best Teacher."
"There was damage to the Wilken family," Richard said. "Knodel should never be able to teach children again."
The school district had no comment.