New stalking and computer hacking charges against a Lakeville middle school principal are adding urgency to a push by a state legislator and education advocates for a more rigorous response to criminal behavior by teachers and administrators.
"It's seriously alarming that these things are happening," said Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, who is pushing a measure at the Capitol that would prevent principals, teachers and others with certain criminal offenses from getting a state license to work in Minnesota schools.
Charges this week against Lakeville Principal Chris Endicott are one of several criminal investigations involving Minnesota school principals.
Other high-profile cases in the past year include a former Bemidji Middle School assistant principal convicted of child pornography-related charges, and a former Chanhassen High School principal who was sentenced to five years in prison on child pornography charges.
"This is a shock," said David Adney, director of the Minnesota Association of Secondary Principals, of which Endicott is a member.
To become a principal in Minnesota, one must go through a lengthy interview process that involves meeting with school faculty, community members and often superintendents, Adney said.
Once a recommendation is made, mandatory background checks are ordered by individual school districts. But Adney suggests that school districts should regularly check up on principals later to make sure there are no red flags — key in cases where the criminal behavior occurs after employment.
Fenton said Friday that her legislation, still in draft form, would "sharpen, clarify and expand" current law, tightening the grounds for denial, revocation or suspension of an educator's license. While her measure does not directly address already mandatory background checks, it does push for a more rigorous response to a broader array of felony convictions.
The Lakeville case
Endicott's alleged criminal behavior includes stalking and computer hacking that occurred during his employment.
His attorney, Bruce Rivers, could not be reached for comment Friday. On Thursday, he said that he hadn't read the complaint and didn't immediately know the extent of the stalking accusations leveled against his client.
Meanwhile, the investigation continues and Apple Valley police say the number of Endicott's potential victims has grown to at least 10.
Lakeville school officials said they conducted a criminal-background check when Endicott was hired in 2012 and that he had no record of convictions. They learned this week that he had been charged with shoplifting in North Dakota in 2016 — four years after he was hired.
Lakeville school officials placed Endicott on paid leave Jan. 12, after police began investigating allegations that he hacked into a computer belonging to a woman who worked at Scott Highlands Middle School in Apple Valley, where his wife worked. Investigators are discovering more potential victims as they dig deeper into the allegations, said Apple Valley Police Capt. Nick Francis.
Police discovered that Endicott stole Social Security numbers, dates of birth and computer passwords from at least 10 victims over at least five years. Authorities are not sure why he was collecting the information.
In searching Endicott's home and school office, police discovered numerous electronic devices, hard drives, checkbooks and personal mail that didn't belong to him or to his wife.
The investigation likely will continue for months, he said.
Endicott appears to have stalked multiple victims, but authorities aren't sure why, Francis said. "It's not your typical stalking case where there's some type of relationship," he said. "It's not something we've ever seen before."
Lakeville school officials sent a letter to the district's staff and families about Endicott's leave. "Access to facilities, systems, and technology were all cut off," the letter stated. "The allegations against him and the information provided to the District do not indicate that student data has been compromised."
District Superintendent Michael Baumann informed staff and families that Jason Bakke, dean at Century Middle School, would serve as interim principal.
Before working in Lakeville, Endicott was the principal at Shakopee West Junior High, an assistant principal in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District, an administrative intern for Anoka-Hennepin Schools and a teacher in Mora.