2 Administrators Charged for Failing to Report Alleged Sexual Abuse at St. Paul School

Updated: 07/15/2014 7:23 PM
Created: 07/14/2014 4:58 PM
By: Cassie Hart

Two former administrators at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus School in St. Paul have been charged for failing to report alleged sexual abuse by a former custodian.

Beth A. Behnke, 48, of Burnsville was principal in 2011 when Walter Happel allegedly spied on an 11-year-old boy in a bathroom. Craig A. Guidry, 52, of Arden Hills was assistant principal.

On Monday, Behnke and Guidry were both charged with one count each of misdemeanor failure to report the maltreatment of minors.

According to the criminal complaint, on Dec. 26, 2011, a mother of the boy reported to St. Paul police her son came home from school and told her he was followed into the students’ restroom by Happel. The boy said while he was using the urinal, the custodian started using the urinal next to him and said “It’s a big thing.” The student then said the custodian exposed his genitals and started shaking it. The boy said he became scared and left. He also said Happel would give students candy.

The complaint also states the student reported the incident to his teacher and also talked to the school’s assistant principal about what happened. The mother told police she reported the incident to a school employee that she thought was a social worker. She said she didn’t hear anything back from the school, so she went to police.

On Jan. 10, 2012, as part of the investigation, police spoke with Behnke. She told investigators she was aware of the incident and identified the custodian as Happel, according to the complaint.

Behnke said Guidry spoke to Happel about the incident. The criminal complaint said the school’s response was to move the location of the student’s locker to a different floor to minimize the student’s contact with Happel.

During a meeting with Happel, Behnke and Guidry, Happel admitted to using the students’ restroom while students were present but denied making the comment about the student’s genitals, according to the complaint. Happel was then instructed to only use the students’ restroom for emergencies only.

Investigators reviewed Happel’s personnel file in 2014, about an interaction he had with another student. The complaint states, staff members reported several instances of concerning behavior like following students into the restroom, using the students’ restroom while students were present and giving students candy. In statements, some of the staff indicated they told administrators of their concerns.

In Happel’s personnel file, there was an incident reported on Jan. 17, 2012, which said Happel allegedly slapped a student on the buttocks and another student witnessed it. The report said Happel made the comment, “people in prison get a boyfriend if pants are sagged.” One of the students also reported Happel would follow him into the bathroom and said it appeared Happel was watching him. The student said he felt uncomfortable and started using a different restroom.

According to the complaint, both Behnke and Guidry were present during the interviews of the two students with a school resource employee.

During an interview with Happel and a school human resources consultant on Jan. 27, 2012, Happel admitted giving candy to students, even though he was told not to by administrators, the complaint states. He also acknowledged using the students’ restroom but no students were present. Happel said he would look over or under the stall before cleaning them to see if it was occupied. He also said he hit the student with the backside of his hand. He admitted he should not have addressed sagging his pants in this manner.

Happel received a written reprimand and was removed on April 26, 2012.

According to the criminal complaint, there was no indication Behnke, Guidry or any other school district employee reported the slapping of the buttocks incident to a local welfare agency, police or sheriff.

On March 19, 2014, a “Confidential Students Maltreatment Report Form” was filed by a school social worker with the schools. It identified the incident as “sexual assault,” according to the complaint.

Guidry admitted he was aware of the incidents and Behnke was also made aware of the incidents. Guidry could not recall if police were notified. He said he was aware of the mandated reporter law, but it was not his responsibility and someone else in the school administration would report it.

Happel entered a not-guilty plea in Ramsey County Court earlier this month for charges filed against him. The plea came after Judge Patrick Diamond ruled there is enough evidence to hold Happel for trial. He remains in custody.

Behnke is currently the principal at Falcon Heights Elementary in the Roseville School District. A school spokeswoman said the district is aware of the charge but will let the process play out.

Guidry is now an assistant principal at Jackson Elementary in St. Paul. The district said it is discussing his job status.

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