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Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published January 08 2014

Former Park River teacher pleads not guilty in sex case

Justin Kiefer, a former fifth-grade teacher in Park River, N.D., has pleaded not guilty to felony charges alleging he had sex with a 16-year-old girl in November in the Walsh County town.

State District Judge Richard Geiger on Friday set Kiefer’s pretrial hearing for March 18 with his jury trial slated to start April 2.

Kiefer, released last fall on $25,000 bond, is living back in his home state of South Dakota in Aberdeen, according to court officials. He appeared Friday at his arraignment in state district court in Grafton, N.D., represented by local attorney Todd Burianek.

Kiefer, 25, was charged in November with two counts of corruption or solicitation of a minor, alleging he had sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old girl who was a Park River High School student twice that month in Park River. Each count is a Class C felony with a maximum prison sentence of five years if he’s convicted.

Walsh County Sheriff Lauren Wild told the Herald the girl’s parents reported her relationship with Kiefer, and he was arrested and jailed and made an initial appearance in November.

Background check

Hired in August to a one-year contract to fill in during a teacher’s year-long leave, Kiefer resigned after his arrest and the Park River School Board accepted his resignation Nov. 29, said Superintendent Kirk Ham.

“We did a pretty extensive review of how that all went about,” Ham said Wednesday of the school district’s hiring of Kiefer last year.

Kiefer had been living in Fargo before taking the Park River job and had been “subbing in schools up and down the Red River Valley during the last school year,” Ham said.

“We did our due diligence,” he said, including contacting several of the schools where Kiefer had subbed. “We got all positive reports.”

To get his North Dakota teaching certification, Kiefer had to undergo a criminal background check, so he was cleared that way, Ham said.

According to North Dakota court records, Kiefer’s only previous charges were two speeding infractions in Fargo and one in Grand Forks during the last school year.

According to the Aberdeen (S.D.) American News, Kiefer was working for Midcontinent Cable in Fargo in early 2012 and was married in May 2012 to a South Dakota woman. They were divorced in August 2013, according to North Dakota court records.

Kiefer’s case has led school officials and others in the community to “probably an awareness that it can happen anywhere,” Ham said of teachers accused of inappropriate or criminal behavior with students.

“We just need to make sure we are doing the best job we can for people applying for jobs,” he said.

A long-term substitute teacher who often has worked in the district is teaching the fifth-grade class until the permanent teacher returns next school year, Ham said.