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Angry parents demand answers after custodian accused of peeping

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Angry parents of students at a St. Paul school are demanding answers from district officials in the wake of an arrest of a custodian accused of peeping at a student in a school restroom.

Foremost on their minds: Why was a man who had been suspected of past inappropriate behavior allowed to work around students?

“What system failed to allow this guy to continue being around kids? I have to ask myself, ‘Where else did this happen?’ ” one parent asked at a community meeting Monday night, the Star Tribune reports.

Walter J. Happel, 62, of Newport, Minnesota, was charged last week with one count of surreptitious interference with privacy, accused of having looked under a bathroom stall door and smiling at an 11-year-old boy using a toilet. The incident happened at Linwood Monroe, a K-8 school, on Feb. 19, investigators say.

Authorities say Happel has been accused of misconduct with children in six cases in St. Paul public schools, one at Roosevelt Elementary School and five at Linwood Monroe, the Star Tribune reports.

It was disclosed last week in charging documents that Happel, who retired March 4 in the wake of the allegations, is suspected of shaking his penis in front of a boy in a restroom in 2011, and of swatting a boy’s buttocks that same year. Charges in the case also say Happel was given a letter of reprimand after he continued to give candy to students at school when he had been told not to do that, and he gave a digital camera to a boy at Roosevelt Elementary School in 2003.

Investigators say Happel also kept a secret space in a storage room on the school's the 4th- through 8th-grade campus, where he kept intensifying gel, energy capsules and a bottle of testosterone.

Parent Aniya Beckom said that three years ago she had complained that Happel followed her then-12-year-old son into a bathroom and then commented on his own genitals, an incident that still deeply troubles the boy.

"They don't get it. They aren't going to get it," Beckom told FOX 9, speaking of district officials.

Bryan Bass, who has been principal at Linwood Monroe since the start of the school year, said he understood parents were mad, frustrated, sad and disappointed, the Pioneer Press reports. The newspaper also has a slideshow with images from the meeting.

District officials vowed better communication with parents, as well as more security, including new security cameras at the school. The district has a goal to outfit all schools with cameras and a buzz-in, secured main entrance by the end of this summer, Laura Olson, the district’s director of security and emergency management, told parents at the meeting.

The district is also considering ongoing, recurring background checks for employees.

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