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Board asks Bottineau teacher accused of sex acts with teens to surrender license

BISMARCK — After North Dakota's teacher licensing board voted Thursday to ask a former Bottineau High School science teacher charged with sex crimes involving minors to voluntarily surrender her license until the court matter is resolved, a board member questioned a lack of consistency in how it has handled similar cases.

Marissa Ashley Deslauriers, 24 was charged Dec. 15 with corruption or solicitation of a minor. Two additional charges of sexual assault were filed Jan. 7 in Bottineau County District Court.

All three charges are Class C felonies, each punishable by up to five years in prison.

The corruption charge alleges that Deslauriers engaged in a sexual act in November with a 15-year-old boy.

The sexual assault charges accuse her of having sexual contact with a 15-year-old boy — it's unclear if it was the same boy from the corruption charge — between Oct. 1 and Dec. 15 and with a 17-year-old boy between Dec. 1 and Dec. 14.

Court documents don't specify whether the alleged victims were Deslauriers' students, and her attorney, Robert Hoy of West Fargo, declined to comment on it. Bottineau County Sheriff Steve Watson and State's Attorney Swain Benson could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Bottineau Superintendent Jason Kersten said Deslauriers was placed on paid administrative leave Dec. 14, and the school board accepted her resignation Dec. 31.

On Thursday, the state's Education Standards and Practices Board voted 7-2 to invite Deslauriers to respond to the allegations against her and to ask her to voluntarily surrender her educator license, which expires Aug. 15. A conviction on any one of the felony charges would result in an automatic license revocation.

Hoy said he expects that Deslauriers will plead not guilty to the charges and that she will likely surrender her teaching license because she has resigned and isn't using it, but he would prefer the board take a wait-and-see approach.

"Typically, someone's license becomes their livelihood, and by the board stepping in, they sort of appear to take sides," he said, adding, "I would hope that this wouldn't become a precedent."

Last summer, Hoy successfully defended West Fargo high school teacher and 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the Year Aaron Knodel against five counts of the same corruption charge Deslauriers now faces.

After Knodel's acquittal, the licensing board dismissed an inquiry into whether he violated any ethical or conduct codes in connection with allegations of a sexual relationship with a student in 2009. The board had previously voted to take no action on Knodel's case, pending the outcome of the criminal case. He has since returned to the classroom.

Rugby Superintendent Mike McNeff was one of the two ESPB members Thursday who voted against asking Deslauriers to surrender her license. Later, when the same action was proposed for another educator, he spoke out against it.

"I just wish we were more consistent, to be honest with you, because we haven't done this before," he said. "And now we're taking this path of almost saying that, 'Are you guilty? If you are, give us your license.' "

The board tabled action Thursday on Bismarck Public Schools employee Tania Gerving's license pending the outcome of her court case.

Gerving, 45, of Mandan, was charged with felony theft Jan. 4 in Burleigh County District Court for allegedly stealing medication from a student in September. She has since resigned as an instructional strategist at Horizon Middle School.

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.

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