Oak Grove, ousted track coach at center of federal civil rights lawsuit

Oak Grove Lutheran
Oak Grove Lutheran(KVLY)
Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 8:07 PM CST
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Oak Grove Lutheran School, as well as its former high school track coach, Daniel Stoa, who has since been convicted of sharing child pornography online, are named in a new civil rights lawsuit filed in North Dakota District Court. The school’s former president, Michael Slette, as well as the school’s current athletic director and high school dean, Brent Wolf and Aimee Zachirson are also named in the lawsuit. The parents of a minor victim, who is a former Oak Grove student, are listed as the plaintiffs in the case.

Stoa was convicted of four felony counts of possession of child porn and one count of promoting an obscene sexual performance by a minor in April 2022.

Court documents say the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received a tip from Twitter in January 2021 after two photos were uploaded on its servers by the user @youthfulspirit4. One of the photos was of a female child between the ages of three and five in a sexually explicit position. The other photo was of a clothed juvenile posing in a provocative manner, which is not illegal, but court documents say the photo would be classified as child erotica.

Investigators later found other images within the user’s Twitter messages, including both an image and video of an adult male raping young girls. Stoa admitted to being the account owner of the Twitter page and admitted to sharing an image of child sexual abuse, as well as engaging in a sexually explicit chat on Twitter.

The victim’s parents state their child endured sexual misconduct and harassment while a student at Oak Grove and her several claims were ignored. The family is seeking damages for the violations of Title IX, the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment and state law claims, as well as for “financial loss, damage to reputation, humiliation, mental anguish, and emotional distress,” court documents state.

Court documents allege shortly after the victim joined the varsity track team, she began to report inappropriate behavior from Stoa, including touching her hair and rubbing her back. The victim’s parents told their daughter to keep her distance from Stoa and to report any further incidents. Documents state Stoa then sent the victim a Snapchat friend request at 3 a.m. The child was between 13-15 years old at the time. The victim’s father contacted Oak Grove’s athletic director to report the incident.

The victim’s parents soon learned that multiple other families had been filing concerns since 2015 regarding Stoa. Court documents state the concerns about Stoa from 2015 to 2020 were filed directly with Oak Grove’s administration, including Slette and Wolf, and additional reports of “inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature from Stoa directed toward minor female students” were filed with Slette and Zachirson.

The Twitter page @NDHSScore is run by Stoa, which court documents allege Stoa was also using to post inappropriate content on the page “including scantily dress and nude girls appearing to be minors.” The content was reported to Wolf, but according to documents, no action was taken. Despite the victim’s parents voicing concerns to Oak Grove regarding the safety of their children and other children because of Stoa’s actions, “Oak Grove failed to follow mandatory reporting laws and guidelines,” documents state.

When Stoa was charged in Cass County Court on the child porn charges in Feb. 2021, in a public statement, Slette stated that the investigation did not have any connection with any Oak Grove students. Court documents say this statement directly contradicted all previous reports from Oak Grove families. The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation was not made aware of any of the previous incidents with Oak Grove students by Oak Grove until concerned parents directly informed the investigators, court documents allege.

In July 2021, the victim’s family states they received a letter from Oak Grove censuring the victim’s parents as well as their two children who had attended the school for more than 10 years. Court documents state the letter specifically stated the victim would have the opportunity to re-enroll in Oak Grove as long as she and her parents agreed to specific expectations for the 2021-2022 school year, which included requiring the parents receive written permission to be present on school property and requiring the victim to have weekly meetings with administration to build a “renewed relationship/connection” with the Oak Grove community. Documents say the letter also stated that failure to agree and comply with the expectations would result in expulsion from Oak Grove for both children despite no previous behavioral, academic, or athletic disciplinary actions in their time at the school.

The victim wrote a response to the school and requested she be allowed to return to Oak Grove and that her parents could freely attend Oak Grove events without any other stipulations. However, documents allege Oak Grove refused to grant her conditions and both the victim and her sibling were not allowed to re-enroll at Oak Grove.

On February 10, 2022, the Education Standards and Practices Board held hearings for Zachirson and two other Oak Grove staff members on a separate matter of the same context and each were issued formal letters of reprimand for the student harassment concerns and the failure to perform their duties. Additionally, Zachirson was specifically assigned required coursework and mandatory reporting training, court documents state.

In an email sent to Oak Grove families shared with Valley News Live Friday night, President Bob Otterson stated, “Oak Grove will defend itself vigorously to obtain a dismissal of these claims.”

The victim’s family has demanded the case be heard by a jury. The next court date has not yet been set in the case.