After meeting with the family of a Rogers High School student who was suspended for two months for a tweet, Elk River District Superintendent Mark Bezek said Wednesday that school officials are now “pursuing to craft a different outcome, but one that will still make an impact.”
As the Hennepin County attorney’s office pondered a Rogers police report concerning the tweet by Reid Sagehorn, the 17-year-old captain of the school’s football and basketball teams, Bezek and other district officials continued to meet with “all parties concerned.” That included two students who Bezek said admitted to creating a now-deleted, sexually explicit Web page on ask.fm that included a reference to Sagehorn’s alleged boast of having had a relationship with a 28-year-old physical education teacher — a tweet of “actually, yes” that friends say was meant to be sarcastic.
The county attorney’s office has received the case from police and is now considering what charges — anything from a felony to a misdemeanor to none at all — are warranted.
Given that no one is in custody, prosecutors are under no imminent legal deadline to decide how to proceed.
Rogers Police Chief Jeff Beahen said again Wednesday that charges against Sagehorn or others could be as serious as a felony, but that prosecutors would have to prove that the accused intended to cause harm to the teacher with the online postings and that she had indeed been harmed.
Beahen said Tuesday that after Sagehorn’s tweet, the teacher was interviewed by officers, who found no substance to the postings in question about her. Bezek said that the teacher “did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Reaction in district
Sagehorn was initially suspended for five days. It was then increased to 10 days and then about two months.
The dispute in the district over the tweet and the severity of Sagehorn’s punishment has created a furor among parents and students.
“This thing has happened so fast and came at us brutally,” Bezek said Wednesday. “We’re trying to meet with all parties concerned, and when we review everything, there’s a chance there will be a different outcome. I don’t know what that outcome will be.”
Bezek said he met with Sagehorn and his family, who told him they prefer not to speak publicly about the incident.
“They’re hurting,” Bezek said.
He met with them Tuesday, before a scheduled district meeting that did not include the incident on its agenda. But, Bezek said, he addressed parents and students at that event who supported Sagehorn.
“There was a strong showing, and even without a forum to speak, they were very respectful,” Bezek said. “I … told them we are continually looking at this, that I’m meeting with all parties involved.
“I need everyone to calm down, to de-escalate this a little bit, so we can have some conversations. It’s so hot right now.”
The school board will proceed with a scheduled meeting Monday, but Bezek said he does not expect the issue to be resolved by then. In the meantime, Sagehorn remained away from school Wednesday.
“It’s wishful thinking on my part that we can find some greater good in this,” Bezek said. “We have an opportunity to make an impact.
“Since noon [Tuesday], if I’ve gotten 50 messages, 40 have been supporting the position of the administration,” he said. “It wasn’t that way the day before.”
An online petition in defense of Sagehorn has drawn more than 4,000 signatures.
Beahen, the police chief, said that “Rogers Confessions,” the now-deleted Web page on ask.fm, was open for people to participate in anonymously and included posts from people saying such things as they’d had sex with a cheerleader or more graphic claims. Ask.fm is a freewheeling social networking site where users can post anonymously.
In addition to these types of posts, students at many Minnesota high schools have set up their own versions of “confessions” Twitter handles. They often include allusions to sexual escapades, as well as insults or other comments, and are difficult to track, springing up and being deleted at will.