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School board cuts North Dakota Teacher of the Year's pay, benefits

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The 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the Year who was accused of having a sexual relationship with a student has been placed on unpaid administrative leave.

Aaron Knodel, a 35-year-old West Fargo High School English teacher, was charged Friday in Cass County, North Dakota, with five counts of corruption or solicitation of a minor. He has denied the charges.

The criminal complaint against him says Knodel engaged in sex acts with a 17-year-old multiple times in February and March of 2009, including in his classroom.

Last week, it was revealed 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.

On Monday, the West Fargo school board voted unanimously to cut Knodel's pay and benefits pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation, Valley News Live reports.

Superintendent David Flowers says if Knodel is found not guilty he would be eligible for getting his pay and job back.

Knodel is due in court next week, KFGO says. Charges of corruption or solicitation of a minor are described in North Dakota law here.

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, InForum reports. 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, InForum says.

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

Their relationship ended on March 9, 2009, when the student said she sent Knodel a text, which the teacher claimed his wife saw, the court documents say, according to WDAY.

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, InForum reports.

KVRR reports an email from Knodel’s attorney says the educator passed a lie detector test, and he expects a not guilty verdict at trial.

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

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