When North Dakota teachers break the law, renewing their licenses is not a pass-fail test

Feb. 24—BISMARCK — Separate criminal offenses by two Fargo-area teachers that recently came before North Dakota’s teacher licensing board illustrate how some licensing decisions are seemingly black and white, while others come in shades of gray.

The North Dakota Education Standards and Practices Board is tasked with ensuring all teachers licensed in North Dakota have met state standards.

When a teacher faces a criminal charge like sexual assault, decisions about their teaching license are often clear cut.

For example, the board voted unanimously on Feb. 8 to revoke the teaching license of Levi Tande, a former health sciences teacher and athletic trainer for Fargo Public Schools.


pleaded guilty in January

to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy last June during a summer sports program at Fargo South High School.

Allyson Hicks, general counsel for the ESPB, said with a conviction, guilty plea, or any criminal judgment in a case like that, a teacher’s license is unilaterally revoked.

But The Forum learned teachers facing other charges, including multiple DUIs, can lose their teaching license or have it renewed, depending on their circumstances and how they respond to them.

For example, on the same day the ESPB revoked Tande’s license, it voted unanimously in favor of granting a license to a West Fargo teacher despite a third DUI arrest, one of which involved her striking unoccupied vehicles and leaving the scene.

Hollyanne Duda, 37, is a seventh-grade life science teacher and student council advisor at Cheney Middle School. She did not respond to messages from The Forum.

Cory Steiner, chairman of the teacher licensing board and superintendent of the Northern Cass School District in Hunter, has himself been previously charged with DUI in August 2017.

During the board’s discussion on Feb. 8, Steiner said the aim of ESPB is not punishment.

“This board is about ‘Can people persevere and be resilient?’ and I think we give people a chance to do that,” he said.

During a later interview, Steiner said he voted to grant Duda a license because she took ownership of her actions and took steps to fix the behavior.

“We always say our job is to do what’s right for learners and I think in this instance, the board felt strongly this was the right person to be working with learners,” Steiner said.

It’s not common for a teacher to be charged with multiple DUIs in North Dakota, said Becky Pitkin, executive director of the ESPB in Bismarck.

ESPB policy allows the executive director or office staff to approve the teaching license of a person who’s had one DUI within the past 10 years, or one Minor in Possession or Minor in Consumption charge.

Pitkin said anything outside of those parameters must go to the board for review.

Teachers are required to self-report a subsequent DUI, even if their previous infractions are old.

The Forum made an open records request and learned that over the past five years, the ESPB has considered license renewals 11 times for teachers accused of a second DUI.

In several of those cases, the first arrest happened more than 10 years prior, Pitkin said.

The board has considered license renewals twice for teachers who have had a third DUI, including Duda.

Two North Dakota teachers have each had four DUIs, records showed.

For one of those teachers, the first three infractions happened more than 25 years prior. For the other, the arrests were more than 10 years old, license suspension and treatment was handled in another state, and there have been no recent offenses since, Pitkin said.

Context surrounding a DUI can also be a factor in the outcome of the teacher’s license renewal.

If someone were hurt or killed as a result of a DUI, or if a teacher got a DUI on the way to school and entered the building, Pitkin said their license would be in greater jeopardy than if those factors were not present.

“DUIs are really hard for me. DUIs kill people,” she said.

As executive director, Pitkin does not have a vote on the teacher licensing board, which is made up of 10 educators, administrators, school board members and teacher educators appointed by the governor.

Pitkin said she tells people she’s glad she can’t vote, but there are times she wishes she could.

A new teacher in North Dakota typically receives a two-year license. After that, license renewal comes up every five years and is tied to their date of birth.

For license renewals where no infractions or complaints are in play, the board approves them as a list at its monthly meetings, Steiner said.

Duda’s first DUI arrest occurred in February 2013 in West Fargo, about three years before she was hired as a teacher for West Fargo Public Schools.

A breath test showed she had a blood alcohol content of .218, well above the legal driving limit of .08, court records showed.

Her second DUI occurred in June 2022 in West Fargo after a person called law enforcement about a vehicle that kept circling the block, then appeared with visible body damage.

Officers determined Duda struck two unattended vehicles and left the scene of the crash. She was charged with DUI refusal and duty upon striking an unattended vehicle.

Duda was arrested a third time on a DUI charge in West Fargo about a year later, in July 2023.

Around 1:30 p.m. on a Friday, police responded to a caller’s report of a crash. The man whose vehicle was struck said he saw a vehicle coming slowly toward him with the female driver “sleeping.”

The responding officer was able to wake Duda and observed a heavy odor of alcohol; she was arrested for DUI refusal, according to an incident report.

Pitkin said Duda self-reported that third DUI from last summer.

In a letter written to the board in January, Duda addressed the “traffic violations” on her record from the summers of 2022 and 2023.

She wrote that she takes full responsibility for the violations and the choices that led to them, but that they’ve led to positive changes in her life.

Duda referenced a four-week program she started in July 2023 at Heartview Foundation, an addiction treatment facility in Bismarck. She said she’d put a lot of work into herself and is in a better state.

“I would like you to know that I love teaching with all of my heart and I hope to continue in this career path for the rest of my working life,” Duda wrote.

The board renewed Duda’s teaching license with the stipulation that she self-report further incidents immediately, instead of waiting until license renewal time.

Duda’s personnel file at West Fargo Public Schools contains multiple positive evaluations of her work in the classroom since 2016, according to a review by The Forum.

It does not include any reference to her DUI arrests.

West Fargo Public Schools does not include criminal records or proceedings from other agencies in its personnel files, said district spokesperson Heather Leas.

The district also does not comment on personnel matters, she said.

ESPB chairman and school superintendent Steiner told The Forum the practices used in West Fargo schools is a common approach for school districts in North Dakota.

Items in a teacher’s personnel file are only those that have a substantial impact on the learning environment, he said.

The ESPB has been busy as of late dealing with criminal cases involving North Dakota teachers, staff and school administrators.

In November 2023, former West Fargo elementary school principal

David George faced charges related to child sexual abuse and possession of child sexual abuse materials.

In mid-February, longtime guidance counselor and coach at Dakota Prairie High School in Petersburg,

Brendon Parsley, was charged with sexual assault, luring a minor and soliciting a minor.

A few days later, former Midkota Public School superintendent

Ryan Baron was charged for allegedly possessing videos of child sex abuse materials.

Pitkin said the board has steps in place to ensure that those situations are immediately flagged.

She said the board can convene in less than 24 hours for a special meeting to suspend an educator’s license and forward the information to a national clearinghouse to alert other states.

“Our board is highly committed to keeping children safe,” she said.

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