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Wadena parents upset about iPad incident

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Parents of the Wadena-Deer Creek School District students who said their children saw an inappropriate photo of a teacher this fall are upset with the response from the school board and the superintendent.

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Linda Johnson of Wadena spoke with the Brainerd Dispatch Monday and provided a copy of a joint statement the parents wrote. Tom VanErp, a school district health and physical education teacher, was suspended earlier this fall without pay for the equivalent of 10 work days for not complying with district’s acceptable use policy for technology. In a statement issued to the Brainerd Dispatch last week Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom said the basis of the suspension was conduct unbecoming a school employee. Dahlstrom said at that time that no photo was retrieved and the investigation into the matter had concluded.

“We want the school to do what’s right, morally and ethically,” Johnson said by phone Monday. “The school district needs to get that photo. They didn’t do enough.”

She said students reported seeing a picture of a mirror reflection of the teacher without clothes.

A phone message was left for VanErp but was not returned Monday.

Wadena-Deer Creek School Board Chair Steve Techam said he couldn’t comment on the photo.

Johnson said VanErp should not be in the Wadena-Deer Creek school building but stopped short of saying he should be fired.

“We don’t think he should be there,” she said. “They (school district officials) have not done enough. They have been sitting on their thumbs doing nothing.”

Dahlstrom was out of the office Monday and could not be reached for comment.

Techam disagreed with Johnson’s contention about the school district’s reaction, noting school officials had been involved in numerous meetings on the topic.

“I disagree,” he said Monday. “He (VanErp) was suspended immediately. We have worked through a lawyer and we came up with a penalty.”

The other parents who helped prepare the statement were Wayne and Missy Ament of Bluffton, Jim and Tami Mench of Verndale and Joe and Becky Wegscheid of Wadena. Johnson said the parents planned to attend the Dec. 17 school board meeting to discuss the issue.

In the joint statement the parents said their children were exposed to an inappropriate picture and they felt the issue was important enough to pursue.

“A teacher is surrounded by children daily, and as such they should be held accountable to higher moral and ethical standards,” the parents wrote.

They said that while VanErp is now teaching some middle school classes, he is still walking the hallways in the same school building as the students who saw the inappropriate picture.

“The school has not done anything to protect the students from this uncomfortable situation,” they wrote. “They have to see this teacher every day, even though he is now a middle school teacher.”

The parents’ statement said Dahlstrom told the parents school officials couldn’t extract the picture because an iPad has no hard drive and once something is deleted it cannot be retrieved. The parents wrote that a member of their group contacted a state crime services division official and other sources who indicated that data can be pulled from devices that are not backed up.

“Why does a school district use an iPad for their classroom teaching, curriculum and other tutorials and not back up the contents?” they wrote.

The group said it was told by Dahlstrom that there was not enough room on the server for a back-up system.

“We are at the mercy of the superintendent and school board who need to step up to the plate and do what’s right; take responsibility for their lack of leadership in upholding what morally and ethically is right,” they wrote. “The school district has admitted there was an inappropriate photo, what else do they need?”

The parents said in the statement that they had been told the investigation is now closed.

“Shame on the WDC School Board and the superintendent for not stepping up to the plate and not doing what’s right,” they wrote. “What about the rights of the students.”

Techam said no adult had seen the picture in question and the school district had no way of knowing what sort of device it had been taken on. The school district said they sent the iPad to a forensics company and the technology doesn’t exist to retrieve a photo that has been deleted with no back-up system.

The board chair said VanErp had not been the subject of discipline in the four years Techam had served on the board and he was not aware of any earlier disciplinary action.

Techam said he could not comment on the parents’ characterization of the photo.

Johnson said the parents had been in touch with law enforcement on the issue but were informed by Wadena Police Chief Bruce Uselman that because no picture had been sent to anyone that no crime had been committed. Uselman could not be reached Monday to address the issue.

Johnson also contended that the teacher’s suspension had been eight days but Techam said it was 10 days.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or mike.orourke@brainerddispatch.com. He may be followed at www.twitter.com/MikeORourkenews.

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Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860
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