It took more than two years before Willmar high school teacher and coach Chad Akerson was arrested earlier this month in connection with a sexual assault investigation that was launched by police in 2012.
The police investigation in Willmar began the same day Akerson resigned from his job at Willmar Senior High on Oct. 2, 2012, days after a complaint was made about him to school officials, records show.
Since then Akerson went on to teach and coach at another Minnesota school. The case has raised questions about what school officials can share when an employee under investigation in one district applies for a job in another.
Akerson, 34, was charged this month with having a sexual relationship with one of his students, who was also on his hockey team, that started when she was a ninth-grader and continued after she became an adult.
The Kandiyohi County attorney’s office declined to answer questions about why, according to a police report, the investigation took two years, citing “private data.” Willmar police referred questions to the county attorney’s office.
The relationship came to light because of a “rumor around town,” Assistant County Attorney Aaron Welch said last week. “Then someone was at a wedding and heard it.”
That person was a legally mandated reporter who went to police, Welch said, adding that he knows of no other allegations against Akerson.
The student told police that she and Akerson had sex three to four times a week, beginning in 2010 and continuing until the girl reached adulthood, in locations including his home, car and classroom and the girl’s home, according to the complaint. Their relationship continued after Akerson resigned from the school district until October of this year, when the girl was 20.
Continuing to teach
Akerson was hired as a long-term substitute health and physical education teacher in Ashby, Minn., in February 2013. He worked as a full-time teacher there during the last school year, when he also coached baseball. The district put him on unpaid leave after his Dec. 3 arrest.
Ashby Superintendent Allan Jensen would not comment on Akerson’s case. But he said that by law, the school conducts criminal background checks on new employees and volunteers, as well as follows normal protocols for checking references and talking to former employers.
Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said the district got a complaint from a third party on Sept. 27, 2012, a complaint reflected on Akerson’s personnel file. Akerson resigned from his job on Oct 1., effective the following day. The school’s investigation was subsequently completed, though school officials did not release results.
When representatives from Ashby called the Willmar district that October, Kjergaard said, his district’s employees were limited on what they could say, on the advice of their attorney.
“My understanding is they talked to my high school principal … and he responded to questions as much as he could following the limitations imposed by law,” Kjergaard said. Officials typically give basic information such as “what the job title was, their first and last day of employment, what building they worked in,” he said.
Kjergaard said information about disciplinary actions — the district sent Akerson a letter suspending him for two weeks in 2010 after a second drunken driving case, in which charges were later dropped — also would have been able to be disclosed.
New law more clear
The state Legislature has since passed language mandating that districts release information to potential school employers about pending sex assault investigations involving an employee who has resigned — under certain conditions.
The new language, which took effect in August, mandates that superintendents or their designees “must release private personnel data about the employee’s alleged sexual contact with a student” to inquiring districts after the employee applies for employment with that district. The statute requires that the employee be given written notice that the information will be shared before the employee resigns.
It was unclear what information districts could disclose to potential employers before that. While some interpreted Minnesota law to allow disclosure of a sexual assault investigation to prospective school employers, others said it might have left them open to expensive lawsuits.
“We’re happy that … with the new language … both our members and our students may be a little more protected,” said Gary Lee, director of member services for the Minnesota School Boards Association.
Akerson is charged with first-, second- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct. He had no attorney of record listed in court files. Two charges allege Akerson used his position of authority over a victim of 13 to 15, and the third applies to a victim of 16 to 17. He remained in Kandiyohi County Jail and is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.