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Wendy Reuer, Published December 13 2013

Fargo school district disputes Valley News Live report; third investigation of reporter opened

FARGO – After school officials here reviewed their own security tapes, a third metro law enforcement agency has opened an investigation into whether a Valley News Live reporter broke the law by entering three area elementary schools without permission.

The district’s superintendent is also questioning the accuracy of the Valley News Live report.

Lt. Joel Vettel said Friday the Fargo Police Department has opened an investigation of the Valley News Live reporter after school officials dropped off security video from the school.

The Moorhead and West Fargo police departments said Thursday they were investigating whether the reporter broke state or city laws in the hidden-camera report about school security that aired Wednesday.

Fargo Superintendent Jeff Schatz said Friday that the security cameras at the school show Valley News Live Reporter Mellaney Moore entering the school near the office and taking a quick left. Schatz said a faculty member then noticed Moore wasn’t wearing school identification in the hallway and asked her what she was looking for. The staff member then directed her to the office to sign in.

The video shows Moore walking back toward the office, stopping momentarily, then heading out the door without checking in, Schatz said.

In the full report that aired on Valley News Live on Wednesday, Moore said she entered elementary schools in Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead and was allowed to walk freely, without anyone stopping her in two of them.

“I expected to be intercepted by security but again I walked right in,” Moore said of the Fargo school in her report. “I met one faculty member that was more than willing to direct me to any classroom.”

Moore said the faculty member did not ask her why she was there or if she had signed in at the office.

Schatz said he was concerned the report misrepresented the teacher’s actions, which were in line with school protocol. He said the faculty member did ask Moore if she had registered at the office and asked her to return to the office and register.

“(Moore) made it sound as if nobody had approached her and that just flat out is not true,” he said.

Valley News Live News Director Ike Walker said Friday the report was clear the reporter was stopped in at least one school.

“We said all along that she was stopped by a teacher,” Walker said.

Walker said Friday night he was not aware Fargo police would be opening an investigation. He said the station stands by Moore’s story, which was meant to point out holes in school security.

Vettel said Friday the tape will be reviewed. He said his department and the district’s primary concern was to ensure safety and security protocols are being followed first.

On Friday, West Fargo Police Chief Arland Rasmussen said the investigation was still ongoing.

Clay County Attorney Brian Melton said he had not yet received any reports for possible charges from the police.

In Fargo and West Fargo, city ordinances require visitors to register with the main office. In Moorhead, Minnesota law essentially demands the same of school visitors. In all three jurisdictions, the offense is a misdemeanor.

Signs are posted in West Fargo, Fargo and Moorhead schools instructing visitors to check in at the school office after entering a school building.

After the report aired, Moorhead Lt. Tory Jacobson said officers who know Minnesota state law prohibits anyone from simply walking into a school felt obligated to investigate the incident and contacted the television station.

On Friday, Moorhead Superintendent Lynne Kovash said school officials are also reviewing the tape of Moore entering schools. Kovash said it appears she was in the building for a total of four minutes and walked in while the secretary at the office was working with another person.

“We are looking at what worked and didn’t work,” Kovash said of district security policies. “We do care about the safety and security of our kids, and we keep talking with our community. It’s something we have constantly on our mind. And yes, occasionally we have breaches.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530