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ND Teacher of the Year pleads not guilty to having sexual relationship with student

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The 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the Year pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that say he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student five years ago.

Aaron Knodel, a 35-year-old West Fargo High School English teacher, was charged in August with five counts of felony corruption or solicitation of a minor. The criminal complaint against Knodel says he engaged in sex acts with the teen multiple times in February and March of 2009, including in his classroom.

In court Wednesday, Knodel waived his right to a preliminary hearing and pleaded not guilty to all five charges, the West Fargo Pioneer reports. The judge released him on his own recognizance so he was free without paying his $10,000 bail.

A criminal investigation into Knodel began in February of this year, and he was placed on paid administrative leave at that time – five months after he received his Teacher of the Year Award.

After he was charged in August, the school board voted to put Knodel on unpaid administrative leave and if he is found not guilty, the school board said he will be eligible to get his pay and benefits back.

In September, the state teacher licensing board voted to take no action on his teaching license until the charges were resolved, the West Fargo Pioneer notes.

His next court appearance is set for Dec. 3, Valley News Live reports. The dispositional conference will either set a date for trial or for a change of plea, the West Fargo Pioneer says.

Charges: Relationship started with texts

According to the charges filed, the student said her relationship with Knodel began when he sent her text messages during winter break of 2008. The texts continued and became more personal she said, and in February of 2009 Knodel told the student his wife would be out of town and invited her over, the charges say. The two reportedly had sexual contact while his children were upstairs sleeping, according to reports.

WDAY reports the charges say Knodel at one point told the student he was thinking of leaving his wife.

The Bureau of Criminal Investigation found calls between phones owned by the two increased dramatically in January and February of that year, then ceased after March 9, when their relationship ended, reports say

Knodel's attorney has said the educator passed a lie detector test and he expects a not guilty verdict at trial. He also questioned why allegations of something that allegedly happened five years ago would be brought to light now.

Knodel, an English teacher and coach, has taught at West Fargo High School since 2004.

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