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School says photo investigation over; WDC Board to give statement Monday

Wadena-Deer Creek Middle/High School is shown Nov. 30. According to school officials, the investigation surrounding an inappropriate photo that was allegedly discovered on a teacher's iPad at the school is over. Photo by Zach Kayser

A school investigation into the events surrounding the alleged appearance of a nude photo on health teacher Tom VanErp's school-issued iPad has concluded, said Dr. Virginia Dahlstrom, superintendent of Wadena-Deer Creek Schools. In a statement given to the Pioneer Journal on Wednesday, Dahlstrom said the forensic firm hired by the district to find evidence of the photo in question had not found it.

Wadena Police Chief Bruce Uselman said his department conducted a review of the incident when concerned parents contacted them approximately two weeks after it occurred. Based on the information the parents provided, as well as dialogues with the county attorney, there are no criminal charges applicable in the case as it currently stands, Uselman said. Had VanErp willfully shown the alleged photo to the students, Uselman said, it would have been a different story.

"If you run into a circumstance where somebody transmits it, or in possessing it, shows it to somebody else, then you're in a different arena," he said. "Here, it was on the instructor's iPad."

Uselman declined to comment on the specifics of the moment in which students allegedly found the photo, in part out of concern for child protection.

School Board Chair Steve Techam also declined to give details about the original incident in question, but he managed to shed some light on the school's investigation, as well as its punishment of VanErp. Although Techam said he did not know the name of the forensic company assigned to look for the alleged photo, he said the company had handled the case for around three to four weeks and was unable to find any evidence of inappropriate photos.

Techam also said VanErp is still employed at the school and there are no plans for further disciplinary action against him at the moment, in addition to the 10-day suspension the school administration said they already placed on VanErp.

"We still feel our students are completely safe in the building," Techam said. "That's the most important part."

Techam said he will make a statement regarding the photo incident during Monday's 6 p.m. public school board meeting at Robertson Auditorium in the middle/high school.

Calls placed by the Pioneer Journal to a number believed to belong to VanErp were not returned this week.