iPad incident sparks heated school board meeting
Tensions were high during the Wadena-Deer Creek School Board meeting Monday night, as parents of the five students who allegedly saw a nude iPad photo of health teacher Tom VanErp spoke out regarding the school's handling of the incident.
Discussions regarding the alleged photo led to a point Monday when Board Chair Steve Techam moved that the meeting be closed. He later agreed to keep going, and the meeting lasted for approximately two hours, a majority of which was taken up by discussion of the photo incident.
The school board addressed the in-cident in a statement read by Techam. The statement read in part that VanErp was placed on administrative leave Nov. 1, the same morning the school became aware of the alleged photo. The statement also touched on specifics regarding the possibility of recovering deleted photos.
"Apple personnel provided infor-mation that we would not be able to extract pictures from the device once the pictures were deleted," Techam said.
Techam said after the meeting that he thought the school administration did not know they would be unable to extract deleted photos when they were distributing iPads inside the school.
"I don't think they realized that they can't retrieve things off of there," he said.
After Techam's statement, the board conducted other business for a short time, and then opened the floor to the public.
Although the topic of conversation shifted to WDC Superintendent Dr. Virginia Dahlstrom at different points during the public discussion, she was mostly silent.
Parents who were present each read aloud a statement written by their daughters concerning the alleged incident. The statements told of the girls' fear and discomfort at school after seeing the photo, as well as their frustration with the actions of school administration.
"They should be caring more about the students' mental and physical well-being instead of their reputation," one letter stated.
Techam reaffirmed his belief that the girls were telling the truth.
"I really think that the five girls that saw this are victims," he said. "I believe those girls 100 percent."
After the meeting, two parents ex-pressed the need for VanErp's remov-al from the high school.
"The main thing that troubles me as a parent is Mr. VanErp glaring at these kids and making them feel un-comfortable for doing the right thing," said Jim Mench, father of one of the alleged witnesses. "She won't come into the lunchroom with him being there. She feels too uncomfortable."
Mench said the five different girls who had come forward were not close friends, and each had a similar account of the incident.
"All five of these girls seen this photo, and they all have the same sto-ry," Mench said. "Yet, it still keeps coming back to, Mr. VanErp's still in the school. It's really unnerving to me."
Linda Johnson, another parent of one of the girls, agreed with Mench.
"They can say they can believe the girls, but if they believe the girls, they need to do the right thing, and the right thing is to take care of this. Mr. VanErp should not be in this school. He needs to be removed from teach-ing," she said.
Johnson described her understand-ing of the situation that played out when the alleged photo was found.
"The teacher left the classroom, and on one of the tables was an unat-tended iPad. The students were being told, 'If there's an unattended iPad, you're not to leave them alone. Pick them up, find out who they belong to.' A student picked it up, opened it up to look at a picture, thinking she would see who it belonged to, and there was a photo of Mr. VanErp taking a naked picture of himself in his mirror with his iPad through the reflection," Johnson said.
Johnson also said there was a mo-ment immediately after the students viewed the photo where VanErp came back into the room while the girls were still present. He picked up the iPad and left, she said.
One of the specific criticisms John-son had of the school was the delay in notifying her after they became aware of the incident.
"The administration did not contact me for two days later, after they had interviewed her (Johnson's daughter) for two days," she said.
A phone call made by the Pioneer Journal on Wednesday to a number believed to belong to VanErp was not returned.