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Central Minn. school serves substitute teacher with restraining order; Man denies allegations of threats, hit list

STAPLES, Minn. — A substitute teacher disputes allegations that led to a harassment restraining order from the Staples-Motley School District.

Dave Johnson, a coach and substitute teacher for seven years in various districts including Brainerd, Pequot Lakes, Pine River-Backus and Staples-Motley denies the allegations of threats against the school district that led to the restraining order.

“I’m just like, ‘What?’” Johnson said of his thoughts on receiving notice of the restraining order, which bans him from Staples-Motley School District property until Aug. 1.

The HRO petition, signed by “Administrative Team of ISD 2170: Ron Bratlie” on behalf of students, staff and volunteers of the district, alleges Johnson threatened the school site, publicly stated he has a hit list of 27 names — some affiliated with the district — claimed to have access to weapons and reported having homicidal thoughts.

Because of these alleged behaviors and “a growing number of people threatened by his behaviors,” the original petition requested Johnson not be allowed on school property, at any home and/or away school activities or to have contact with district staff, students and volunteers.

“He continues to struggle with the boundaries we’ve set in place,” the petition reads. “He was very specific with his threats, and his demeanor was reported to be rather ‘unstable and escalated.’”

After receiving notice of the HRO petition, Johnson learned of a district-wide email from Staples-Motley High School Principal Mike Schmidt, including a picture of Johnson, saying he is not allowed to be on school grounds, and if anyone does see him on school property, they should call Schmidt.

The email was sent Jan. 8, one day before the restraining order was filed in district court. Johnson said he heard of the email a few days later.

Schmidt neither admitted to nor denied sending the email, but said as a school administrator, student and staff safety is his No. 1 priority.

“We’re going to make sure everyone is in the knowledge of the situation so that we can keep our students and staff safe at all times,” said Schmidt, who said he could not comment on whether Johnson was notified before the email that he was not allowed on school property.

When asked if school district policy regarding disciplinary actions was followed with Johnson’s case, Schmidt said he believed the administration did what was necessary for student and staff safety and added Johnson was not a current district employee. Johnson works for Teachers on Call, a Kelly Services company contracted by several school districts.

The last time Johnson taught at Staples-Motley was the 2015-16 school year, though he expected to teach again during the 2018-19 school year after emailing Superintendent Ron Bratlie last summer for confirmation he could sub in the district. Johnson had an email response from Bratlie that Johnson’s information was sent to Teachers On Call for the upcoming school year. Johnson later received notification he would not be subbing at Staples-Motley.

Schmidt spoke on behalf of the school district at the court hearing Jan. 22. During a phone interview May 24, he said he was not present for any of the alleged threats Johnson made, but noted they happened at a local establishment.

When asked about the number of threats reported, Schmidt said it was “more than one.”

“I don’t think it was the number, it was the severity,” said Bratlie, who is leaving the district at the end of June.

Though the HRO petition initially requested the measure to last until January 2021 — two years from the court hearing — Todd County Judge Timothy Churchwell granted a limited restraining order lasting until Aug. 1.

Johnson vehemently denies all the allegations of threats and public claims of weapons and a hit list.

“I’ve never owned a weapon in my life, so it’s just all completely made up,” Johnson said during an interview May 13.

Though the allegations were serious in nature, Bratlie said he believes there is no imminent danger to students or district staff members and volunteers, with matters seeming to have calmed down since the court hearing.

Bratlie added he believed the threats were personal and specific to the Staples-Motley community, meaning he did not see it necessary to seek revocation of Johnson’s substitute teaching license.

As such, Johnson remains employed with Teachers On Call. In a May 29 email to Johnson, Teachers On Call thanked him for his service during the past school year and gave notice of “reasonable assurance of continued equivalent employment” for the 2019-20 school year.

Since the HRO, however, Johnson said he has received notification from several area school districts notifying him they will no longer employ him as a substitute teacher.

Johnson filed an appeal to the HRO, but does not know if he will get a court date before the restraining order ends Aug. 1.

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