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Teacher faces 2 felony charges for sexual contact with student

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A Grand Forks Central High School science teacher is facing two felonies and up to 15 years in prison for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a student.

James Patrick Whalen, 41, of Grand Forks was charged Wednesday with two counts of corruption or solicitation of a minor, one accusing him of engaging in a sexual act at the school and another for an act with the same minor at a private residence, according to the Grand Forks County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The first charge is a Class B felony carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. The second is a class C felony, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Both incidents allegedly took place between Nov. 14, 2015, and Feb. 22.

Court documents state school officials interviewed Whalen, who admitted having a sexual relationship with a student identified in court papers as Jane Doe. The student confirmed having sex with Whalen two times, once in Minnesota during the first week in January 2016 and the other at Whalen’s Grand Forks home on Valentine’s Day when she was older than 15 but still a minor.

The student also disclosed Whalen had sexual contact with her inside Central High School between January 2016 to Feb. 22, 2016, according to court records.

Police received a report Feb. 22 claiming Whalen engaged in a sexual relationship with a female student. An investigation led to the charge of corruption or solicitation of a minor, which was forwarded to the Grand Forks County State’s Attorney’s office for review earlier this week.

According to Grand Forks Public Schools on Wednesday, Whalen has submitted his resignation, effective March 1. He had been placed on administrative leave Feb. 22, the same day police received the report.

On Wednesday, a warrant for Whalen’s arrest was issued and an order prohibiting contact between Whalen and the student was filed.

A woman who answered the door at Whalen’s residence Tuesday told Herald staff that he wasn’t home at the time. Staff left business cards for Whalen, who also did not return a call Wednesday requesting comment.

He was booked into Grand Forks County Correctional Center at about 5:30 a.m. Thursday. 

Whalen began working as a science teacher at Central High School in 1998, according to the school district. 

Grand Forks Public Schools notified Central High School parents of the situation and is cooperating with the Grand Forks Police Department in its investigation.

The North Dakota Education Standards and Practices Board, which issues teacher licenses in the state, said it had not received information on Whalen to review as of Tuesday afternoon.

Whalen was the science department head at Central High School, according to the standards board.

Whalen graduated from Central High School in 1993 and attended UND, where he received a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry.

A court date for Whalen has not been set, according to court records.

Police said the investigation is ongoing and anyone with information is asked to contact the Grand Forks Police Department by calling (701)780-8000, emailing or texting the word “Tipster” at the tip to 847411.

Becky Jacobs

Becky Jacobs is the crime and courts reporter for the Herald.

(701) 780-1134