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Bemidji Middle School teacher suspended for knife incident

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Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

A resolution agreement has been reached regarding a Bemidji Middle School teacher who was investigated after a November incident involving a knife in her classroom.

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The Bemidji School Board voted unanimously Monday night to approve the agreement regarding eighth-grade science teacher Denise Black.

The Minnesota Department of Education found that maltreatment occurred on Black's part in the Nov. 28 incident, according to the agreement.

The agreement also states that the Bemidji School District's internal investigation of the incident finds support for the MDE's conclusion and warrants disciplinary action.

Another investigation of a different matter is still pending from the MDE, according to the agreement.

A Bemidji Police Department detective investigated the Nov. 28 incident after a school district administrator reported it. No charges were filed in connection with the incident.

On Nov. 28, Black had just finished cutting a cake in her classroom and had a "large kitchen knife" in one hand when she grabbed a male student around the neck from behind and held the knife to his chest, according to a Bemidji Police report.

Director of Human Resources Jordan Hickman followed up on the incident and interviewed at least four students who witnessed the incident, according to the report.

The boy who was grabbed told Hickman he knew Black was just "joking" and he was unafraid during the incident, the report states. A boy who saw the incident said he was "kind of surprised -- kind of, but not really" while a girl said she believed Black had done it as a "joke," the report states. A second girl said she was "kind of scared" and that Black might have done it as a joke, according to the report.

Black was placed on paid administrative leave two days after the incident. She remained on paid administrative leave through April 17.

As part of the resolution agreement approved by the board Monday night, Black will be suspended effective April 18 through May 29.

Under the resolution agreement, Black will also initiate an evaluation by a mental health provider and complete any counseling, treatment and aftercare as recommended.

As a pre-condition to her return to her teaching position at BMS after the expiration of the suspension, Black must submit verification of compliance with the provisions of the agreement.

Also, the school district will facilitate a meeting with Black, a school district-designated counselor and interested students to facilitate communication and address any emotional distress the students may be experiencing.

The meeting will be scheduled after school hours during the last week of school. The participation of students will be strictly voluntary.

Any determination regarding Black's coaching positions will be left to the discretion of appropriate supervisory staff.

Black will be authorized to work May 30, which is a staff work day, to complete tasks relating to preparing her classroom for use by school district summer programs and starting preparations for the 2008-09 school year.

The resolution agreement does not address any potential action by the school district in response to a decision affecting Black's licensure by the Minnesota Board of Teaching. If there is such a decision by the Board of Teaching, the school district will consider that matter at that time.

Superintendent Jim Hess said in an interview Tuesday that the school district will move ahead to implement the provisions of the resolution agreement "and keep working diligently to ensure student safety and their wellbeing."

Black could not be reached for comment.

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