Community looks toward recovery following staff departures


South social studies teacher Dan Anderson was arrested early this Summer. Both students and staff urge students to talk to someone if they feel uncomfortable with a staff member.

Grace Palmer, Print Editor in Chief

In early July, former South teacher Dan Anderson was arrested following reports that he sent explicit texts to, and pursued sex with, a minor student. Anderson is currently facing two felony charges: third degree criminal assault and aggravated stalking. A court report with further details regarding the case can be read through the county attorney’s office.

Many of us have had Anderson as a teacher. His actions violated the most basic assumption that our educations are based on – that we can trust our teachers.“It’s crossing so many boundaries and it’s wrong in so many ways. It’s just not okay that it happened,” Hollis Britton, a senior who was in Anderson’s class last school year, said.

Due to timing and other similarities, many students and staff members group this incident together with the resignation of band director Scott Carter at the end of last school year. “There are kids who’ve come back and this space reminds them of the relationship they had with those people,” social worker Eva Neubeck said.

Carter resigned following unconfirmed allegations of inappropriate conduct. Olivia Nelson, currently a senior at Perpich, became concerned and came forward. “[Another student and I] were put over the edge and thought it was about time someone said something.” Nelson and this other student, who asked not to be identified, reported what they saw to the assistant principal. Carter was put on suspension and resigned soon afterward.

Grace Sommers, a sophomore and band student, described the period following Carter’s departure over email.  She focused on the graduation performance in the following days, at which Carter was not present.“It was very disorienting,” Sommers said, “there was a lot of tension… it was a lot more nerve wracking than it needed to be.” In the long term, she said, “I think both the band and South were severely hurt by Carter leaving… there is bound to be residual tension.”

Both Nelson and Sommers expressed feelings of hope for the band under the leadership of new band director Eric Sayre.

At this point, staff members like social worker Eva Neubeck are also looking forward, and focusing on ways to help our community heal in the aftermath of these events. She posed the question, “As a school, how do we acknowledge people’s feelings [about this] in a way that makes it feel like a caring community?”

According to Neubeck, simply forgetting what happened will not help us move forward. “Part of making a healthy community again is not keeping it a secret,” Neubeck said. The social work staff, as well as many teachers, are open to talking to students about any lingering concerns they have about the situation.

Both Britton and Nelson agreed with her, explaining that one of the most important things we can do as a community is keep an open dialogue. “I think we need to have more awareness. These things do happen… I think it’s important to discuss things with the students and have an open conversation about what’s going on in the school,” Britton said.

Neubeck believes that community members will act to prevent future instances of inappropriate conduct. “One of the teachable moments, for all staff and for students, is [to] be aware of their boundaries and, hopefully, notice other people’s boundaries,” she added, “I don’t think anybody was slacking off [last year] – in regular circumstances you don’t look for things like that… [Everyone will]  become a little bit more aware”

As she spoke about these events, Neubeck repeatedly expressed the hope that, moving forward, students will feel like they can speak up if they feel uncomfortable with any staff member. “ If anybody has any feelings that something isn’t right – talk to somebody else. Whether it be [a] teacher or another student that can help them talk to somebody else.”

Nelson concurred. Reflecting on her decision to come forward with her concerns about Carter, she said,“I would encourage students to not be afraid to report any behavior that might seem out of the ordinary or make them uncomfortable.” By establishing an environment in which people feel comfortable coming forward with concerns, we can move towards creating a safer school.

Sommers said, “We have had our share of bad events… [but] I have faith that the community will recover and flourish.”

Updated 10/7/14: Former South teacher Dan Anderson pleaded guilty to a charge of stalking a minor. Prosecutors will ask for a sentence for  five years probation with some jail time, capped at 90 days. They will also ask for Anderson to undergo recommended treatment and register as a sex offender.