Reflection on school board decision

I believe in justice. Ever since I was little, I have always rooted for justice. It provides me with a sense of peace knowing justice has been served. Not only that, but when I see injustice it burns deep and affects all areas of my life.

In my 10-year career and even before as a professional journalist, I have seen and experienced injustice. I was unfairly removed as newspaper adviser in 2009, seen a coach removed from a long-held position with little explanation, seen the teacher’s union avoid involvement in a member’s nightmare and witnessed questionable decisions pass over administrative desks, just to name a few.

After the July 27th meeting where the WFPS School Board reinstated Aaron Knodel with back pay, I have never been more proud to be a member of the WFPS district. District officials took matters into their own hands and conducted a thorough investigation.The list of documents and interviews reviewed by district personnel was impressive. Completing their due diligence allowed them to see all aspects of this unfortunate situation and come to the correct conclusion.

This is the second thorough investigation that has been conducted regarding the information from this case. The first investigation was conducted by Chuck Anderson, a private investigator with more than 30 years of experience. He interviewed more than 30 individuals (BCI agent Mike Ness interviewed 12) and after the investigation decided to not even charge for his services. This is an excerpt from a letter he submitted to Dr. Flowers:

anderson pic

State officials who pursued these criminal complaints received a strong message from the district’s decision. After two independent investigations reviewed the information related to this case, it should be more clear than ever that the state acted inappropriately. The incomplete investigation and lack of substantial evidence should never have led to five criminal complaints.

It is time the public starts asking the same questions jurors asked after the completion of the trial. One juror even questioned on the Joel Heitkamp Show how the state could put somebody through this with what they had and another juror on the Sandy Buttweiler Show noticed several discrepencies throughout the trial. It’s sad these issues are not being addressed by state officials.

The public response to the district’s decision was as expected. From online discussion threads, it seemed as though the majority of opinions were favorable. What surprises me is public opinion has swayed from the original discussion of criminal charges. Even my former students, who I would have hoped through my courses have learned to evaluate information in its entirety before reaching conclusions, have responded with negative and threatening comments toward myself and my family (the topic of my next and final post on the experiences of this past year). Even local radio hosts have noticed how public opinion has shifted, but people are still missing the fact that the original charges were brought forward by state officials in a damaging and irresponsible manner.

The public comments that are not favorable toward the district decision do not even reference the original investigation or complaints. They are mainly focused on student communication, which has already been addressed. It is disheartening to see the majority of people ignore the original complaints because they are focused on communication times and volume. I have already explained how this isn’t uncommon and Superintendent Dr. David Flowers mentioned the district mentoring initiative at the meeting. It is sad to see non-teachers struggle with this concept and ignore the larger issue: how five separate criminal complaints could be filed with no compelling evidence.

People are ignoring the fact that these communication statistics were taken out of context and combined with other faulty investigative methods to legitimize the criminal complaints. Those complaints cost a well-respected teacher his reputation and state taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Byers spared no expense during the trial process, even flying a private jet to Fargo for a deposition. In addition, BCI Agent Mike Ness enjoyed spending taxpayer dollars when he tested the “Twilight” book for DNA in more than a hundred places (listen at 30-minute mark here), only to have all results return as negative – proving definitively that Aaron never touched the book or sticky notes he supposedly wrote and yet state officials still proceeded with that evidence accompanied with the five charges. It is time these individuals are held accountable for their actions. It has been documented that BCI agents operate with some immunity and after this series of events it’s easy to see it is time for a change.

The WFPS district officials made a strong statement to state officials Monday night and restored my faith in justice. It’s time the public turns the focus on the main issue. It is obvious from various dialogues that we hold teachers to the highest possible standard; we should expect no less from our state officials.

Stay tuned for:  “The most disheartening fact” Jeremy Murphy is a journalism and English teacher at West Fargo High School in West Fargo, North Dakota. This blog represents his observations from his professional growth in his nine year career. In no way should this be mistaken for advice or any form of professional expertise. If you are looking for an expert in teaching, English and/or life, you are on the wrong site. You can follow Jeremy on Twitter at @mr_jmurphy or email him at

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