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St. Paul schools conducting internal investigation into criminal charges against assistant principal

Posted by: Chao Xiong under Public safety Updated: July 21, 2014 - 3:49 PM

St. Paul Public Schools is conducting an internal investigation into the criminal case against an assistant principal who is charged with failing to report alleged sexual misconduct by a custodian.

District spokeswoman Toya Stewart Downey said Monday that the district is investigating the case against Jackson Elementary assistant principal Craig A. Guidry. Stewart Downey said Guidry is not working summer school. Few other details were available.

Guidry, 52, of Arden Hills, was charged July 14 in Ramsey County District Court with one count of misdemeanor failure to report the maltreatment of minors. The case stems from his tenure as assistant principal at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus during the 2011-2012 school year, during which time a student alleged that custodian Walter J. Happel smacked him in the buttocks and made a suggestive remark.

Beth A. Behnke, 48, of Burnsville, was principal of Linwood Monroe at the time and was also charged with the same count levied against Guidry. Linwood Monroe is a pre-K-8 school.

Behnke and Guidry are accused of failing to meet Minnesota's mandatory reporter law, which requires people such as educators and clergy to report suspected neglect and physical or sexual abuse of minors within 24 hours of learning about it.

Behnke is listed as principal at Falcon Heights Elementary School on the Roseville Area Schools website. Roseville Area Schools spokeswoman Karen Schaub said last week that news of the criminal case against Behnke was a "surprise" to the district.

"We are still, I guess, determining what's going on," Schaub said early last week.

Roseville Area Schools has not responded to multiple messages seeking an update on Behnke's job status.

Authorities believe that Guidry and Behnke had enough knowledge of Happel's alleged misconduct with underage boys to have known that the January 2012 butt-smacking incident merited a call to police. In December 2011, another boy had complained that Happel followed him into a bathroom, showed him his genitals and made a suggestive remark, according to the charges against Guidry and Behnke.

St. Paul Schools Assistant Superintendent Sharon Freeman sent a letter about the criminal investigation to parents on Friday, July 18.

"There have been recent news reports that mentioned Craig Guidry, assistant principal at Jackson Elementary," Freeman wrote. "I'm writing to provide information based on what's already been reported in the media because we feel it's important to communicate directly with families and staff of the Jackson Elementary community."

Freeman informed parents about the internal investigation and reminded them that the district has enacted new policies in light of the criminal charges filed against Happel. Those measures include regular walk-throughs of school buildings by principals and training on Minnesota's mandatory reporting law, among other efforts. 

Happel, 62, of Newport, started working for the district in 1984 and resigned in February when an 11-year-old student at Linwood Monroe said that Happel peeked at him while he was using a bathroom stall. That led to a number of reports to police and Happel being charged in eight cases in Ramsey County District Court. Six of his alleged victims are students at Linwood Monroe. Happel allegedly pressed his genitals onto one boy's buttocks in 2010 at Linwood Monroe, according to charges.

Two other victims include a family friend and a relative who were allegedly sexually assaulted about 30 years ago.

While investigating the cases against Happel, authorities uncovered district documents showing that Guidry and Behnke allegedly had knowledge of the December 2011 and January 2012 incidents, but never reported the smacking case to police. Multiple staff members had also raised concerns to school administrators about Happel following boys into bathrooms and giving students candy, according to the charges against Behnke and Guidry.

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