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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 15 2014

Former Detroit Lakes High School principal investigated before resigning

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – The former high school principal here resigned last July after admitting he had viewed adult pornography on a school-issued computer.

Steve Morben resigned after being confronted with the evidence, according to a school district investigation obtained by The Forum through an open records request.

The request also yielded several pages of Morben’s web searches.

District officials took the search records to the Detroit Lakes police to determine if any charges should be filed against Morben, but police did not pursue charges.

The school district’s investigation also includes copies of emails and instant messages that show Morben had pursued an unprofessional relationship with a subordinate.

Detroit Lakes Superintendent Doug Froke said the material about Morben’s pursuit of the unprofessional relationship was not shared with Morben before he resigned.

However, Froke told The Forum that the relationship between Morben and the district employee was noticeable in the school environment. He did not make it clear whether that was before Morben’s online searches were investigated, or if it was a reflection made in hindsight.

The investigation started July 12, when Froke asked for Morben’s “emails to be checked,” according to the district’s notes

about the investigation.

On July 17, the emails were delivered to district officials, as were copies of the Google searches. The material was reviewed by Froke and Human Resources Director Melissa Lunak.

Later that day, Froke met with Morben and told him inappropriate material was found on his work computer, according to the district’s account of the investigation.

According to the district’s notes about the meeting, Morben admitted he had viewed porn on a computer provided by the district.

Morben “was very apologetic and said that all he could picture were the faces of the many people he let down,” according to the district’s notes.

By July 24 he had turned in his resignation and on July 31 it was accepted by the School Board.

Morben, in a letter to The Forum, said his searches for pornography on his school-issued iPad were made at three out-of-town educational conferences.

The bulk of the material turned over by the Detroit Lakes School District focuses on Morben’s half of text and instant messages conversations and emails to a female school district employee. The communications between Morben and the unidentified woman are heavily redacted or blacked out, with none of the woman’s replies included.

The redactions make it impossible to determine if Morben’s banter with the subordinate was ever unwanted, or if his attentions were encouraged.

Morben said the text messages, instant messages and emails sent to “a co-worker” were only uncovered after he had resigned.

He said he believes reporting on the school district’s investigative findings more than half a year later is unfair.

“But those who know me well also know that I am a person of character and integrity and I believe that I have shown only those traits to my previous school district and my community in how I’ve carried myself in the seven months since I resigned,” Morben said in the letter sent in mid-February, shortly after The Forum learned of the investigation and requested its findings from the district.

A check into Morben’s background found no criminal issues or civil lawsuits.

To date, no lawsuits appear to have been filed against the Detroit Lakes School District related to Morben’s communications with his subordinate.

Morben’s attorney, Kristi Hastings of Pemberton Law Firm in Fergus Falls, said Morben has been working as a substitute teacher.

Froke said that as far as he knows, Morben is not working as a substitute teacher in Detroit Lakes schools.

Morben says on his LinkedIn profile, a professional networking website, that he’s still interested in working as a secondary school principal.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583