Vadnais Heights charter school to pay $325,000 to student sexually assaulted by teacher

The Academy for Sciences and Agriculture in Vadnais Heights will pay $325,000 to a student who was sexually harassed and assaulted by a teacher when she was in ninth grade.

A news release from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights said the district was “aware of the teacher’s inappropriate interactions and failed to prevent him from ultimately sexually harassing and assaulting the student.”

Court records show Michael Bradley Wahlstedt, 29, pleaded guilty to and was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual assault in 2020. He was sentenced to six months in jail and must serve 15 years of probation as well as a stayed sentence of three years in prison if he violates that probation.

Schools are legally required to prevent and address sexual harassment and assault under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

According to an investigation from the MDHR, the harassment and assault happened in 2019, and staff were aware but failed to intervene.

The agency states the principal “failed to launch an investigation” and also did not speak to the student and her parents or discipline the teacher.

Although the principal did tell the teacher to stay away from the student, reports from law enforcement and MDHR show Wahlstedt didn’t stay away and sexually assaulted her.

The school shared this statement in response to the settlement:

The Academy for Sciences & Agriculture has and will continue to follow all laws applying to it, including the Minnesota Human Rights Act. AFSA disagrees with the characterization of the investigation, the accusations of wrongdoing and conclusions drawn by the MDHR. The School takes all complaints of harassment or discrimination seriously, including investigating any allegations of wrongdoing and taking appropriate discipline.  AFSA supports all students, staff, parents, and community members. AFSA makes its top priority to create an educational environment that is safe and supportive for everyone.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked what characterization of the investigation AFSA disagrees with, but has not yet heard back.

A criminal complaint shows police spoke to the 15-year-old victim in July 2019 and she told them she had been in a romantic relationship with one of her teachers.

Court documents state that Wahlstedt would pick her up in his personal vehicle and that the two had sexual relations at his home.

The age difference between Wahlstedt and the victim is about nine years.

Police later learned that school administrators warned Wahlstedt about his interactions with the student in March 2019 after noticing him speaking to her “for long periods of time at lunch” and ignoring his supervisory duties. The complaint states that Wahlstedt was told by school officials he “needed to set appropriate boundaries” such as never being alone with her and keeping the door open when they needed to interact for class.

The complaint cites another time when Wahlstedt spent a “lot of time” with two couples at the prom in April 2019, one of which included the victim. He was then reminded of the earlier warning and was told that “the students needed to have their prom and teachers should be in the background.”

The settlement comes after the MDHR determined that the school violated the state’s civil rights law when it failed to prevent and address the harassment and assault.

As part of the settlement agreement, the school is required to do the following:

  • Pay the victim $325,000.
  • Train the school board, executive director, teachers, and volunteers on their role in creating a learning environment that is free from sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination.
  • Create a digital system for students, staff, and volunteers to report harassment and discrimination.
  • Follow district policies by requiring teachers to report problematic behavior; launching investigations of any reports of harassment, assault, and discrimination; and informing parents of the reported harassment, assault, and discrimination.
  • Report any complaints to MDHR in which students, staff, parents, or volunteers are accused of sexual harassment or any other form of discrimination, including any action the district took to investigate the complaints.

Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero shared the following statement:

“I am deeply grateful for the courage and strength of this student to bring forward her story of the sexual violence she faced at the hands of her teacher. Yet again, we are reminded that we are surrounded by survivors of sexual assault. To truly honor the courage of this student, schools must do everything possible to prevent sexual harassment and assault from occurring. This is not only the right thing to do but it’s also required under the law.”

The student who survived the assault also shared this statement:

“We, as students, are told our whole lives that school staff are the people we’re supposed to go to when we feel unsafe, but there was no safe place, and the result caused significant damage. I didn’t know that I was in a vulnerable position, but they had all the information to know. I wouldn’t wish what happened to me to happen to anyone else. It is not the victim’s responsibility to make the change, but if the change involves protecting yourself it is absolutely worth demanding something be done. Don’t let anyone intimidate you into thinking the harm that was done was not real.”

Anyone who has been discriminated against can fill out a form online or call the discrimination hotline at 1-833-454-0148.