Zimmerman teacher resigns from his post

by Jim Boyle

Todd Jesperson, a Zimmerman Middle School science teacher who last year lost a grievance over a five-day suspension, has resigned.

The Elk River Area School Board accepted his resignation Monday, Nov. 7. He will be put on paid administrative leave no later than Nov. 22.

The district will continue to pay him as if he were actively employed and at his current salary until March 30, 2012.

Jesperson made headlines earlier this year when an arbitrator for the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services upheld an Elk River Area School District’s decision to suspend a Zimmerman Middle School teacher during the 2009–10 school year.

Jesperson was put on a five-day suspension in November 2009 after the district investigated accusations that he stared at students’ breasts, inappropriately touched a female student’s buttocks and embarrassed a male student about his weight.

Jesperson grieved the action, but the arbitrator for BMS, Rolland C. Toenges, denied the grievance for just cause in a Jan. 3 decision.

The arbitrator ruled that Jesperson’s behavior, at best, was unbecoming of a professional teacher and, at worst, was sexually motivated. The arbitrator also said Jesperson’s testimony was changing and contradictory.

Jesperson continued to teach seventh-grade science at Zimmerman Middle School after his actions and the district’s response became public after the arbitrator’s ruling.

Rod Barnes, the district’s director of human resources, told the Star News there have been subsequent complaints and the district responded to them.

Jesperson had even less to say about the matter.

“I basically have no comment on the story,” he told the Star News in a brief conversation when he was phoned Tuesday at the middle school for an interview.

A resignation agreement and release of all claims was signed by Jesperson, the Elk River Area School District and the Elk River Education Association. It explains that the district and Jesperson mutually desire to conclude their employment relationship in an amicable manner.

The district will provide Jesperson a neutral letter of reference. He cannot, however, apply for or accept any future employment with the school district.

The district will expunge letters dated Feb. 7, 2011, and Oct. 10, 2011.

Jesperson has waived the right to file a grievance.

After March 31, 2012, Jesperson’s group health insurance benefits will lapse subject to any applicable rights under COBRA and state law.

The agreement was made to ensure a clean separation of employment and is not to be considered admission of liability or wrongdoing by or on behalf of Jesperson or the district.

Jesperson had been disciplined twice by the school district before he filed a grievance over a five-day suspension.

He was accused of placing a candy bar in a student’s sweatshirt front pocket instead of her extended hand.

He later acknowledged that “I may have put my hand in her pocket, but I tried not to.”

The candy bar was supposed to be a reward for the student’s actions, Jesperson had said.

“The thing we can’t prove is, what was the intent?” Barnes said.

Jesperson also acknowledged that he may have inadvertently touched the girl’s buttocks, the report said.

“It’s possible that I bumped her bottom when I removed my hand,” he said.

In October 2009, students alleged that Jesperson, on three occasions, stared at their breasts or looked down their shirts. That month, he also was accused of implying that a male student was overweight in front of the class.

“We investigated these complaints and took swift and appropriate action,” Barnes said.

The district issued an unpaid suspension and directives, which Barnes called specific in nature and reasonably calculated to correct the problem and prevent its reoccurrence.

Included in the directives was a warning that if Jesperson engaged in the same or similar conduct in the future, the district would initiate action to discharge him immediately. The teacher was also directed to refrain from any retaliation.

The arbitrator supported the district’s actions.

The incidents in 2009 were not first time the district had to deal with alleged indiscretions on the part of Jesperson.

He allegedly stared at students’ breasts in class and at a parent-teacher conference, leading to complaints between 1999 and 2004. After denying the allegations, Jesperson received a directive from the Elk River School District in 2004.

Jesperson has been a middle-school science teacher for 11 years and a longtime girls tennis coach.

Barnes said the school district is working to find a replacement for Jesperson.