BISMARCK — A third-grade teacher suspended after she allegedly sent racist and sexually explicit text messages to her ex-boyfriend is back at work after being cleared by both a judge and the school district.
Her ex-boyfriend is now under criminal investigation for the text messages.
"It takes time for the truth to come out, but thankfully after thorough investigations the truth came out and Nicole Gabel was exonerated from any wrongdoing," said her attorney, Amanda Harris. "We are hopeful justice will be served and those responsible for fabricating and distributing the defaming text messages will be held accountable. Ultimately, we pray the continued harassment of Ms. Gabel will end."
Gabel was put on paid administrative leave from Dorothy Moses Elementary on Aug. 14 after parents complained to Bismarck Public Schools about the suspect text messages.
The texts included multiple racial epithets against black and Native American students, insulting language toward Bismarck Public Schools Superintendent Jason Hornbacher, who is a former Dorothy Moses principal, and language detailing sexual acts the teacher allegedly performed at school.
She was taken off administrative leave Sept. 23 after an internal investigation by the school district found no evidence that she sent the alleged texts.
In a court order filed Nov. 25 by South Central District Judge Douglas Bahr in a child custody case between Gabel and her ex-boyfriend, Jacob Thompson, the court found that the text messages were not sent by Gabel but had been created by Thompson.
"This Court further finds that Jacob intentionally took steps to harm Nicole's reputation and ruin her career by creating false text messages purporting to be from her," the court order said.
Thompson denies he did so. He said he has filed paperwork to try to have the court finding removed.
According to the court order, Thompson had complained about Gabel in early August to two people, Chrystin Cook and Alexandra Quarne, and stated that he had a screenshot of racist text messages that she had sent him.
Cook testified that Thompson made it clear the screenshot should be distributed but that he did not want any connection to it, according to the court order. Thompson brought a printout of the screenshot to Cook, who took a photo of the messages. Once the messages were shared on social media, Thompson ended all contact with Cook and Quarne.
"Jacob admitted to being in possession of the text messages and stated Cook took a picture of the text messages without his permission," the court order said.
Josh Brown, a school resource officer with the Bismarck Police Department, is investigating the text messages. He searched Gabel's phone with her permission and didn't find any evidence that she sent them. Brown said he found a flyer on Thompson's computer with Gabel's picture and derogatory statements toward her, which Thompson allegedly admitted to creating. There is no evidence he distributed the flyer.
When Gabel was taken off administrative leave in September, she was not allowed back into her original classroom at Dorothy Moses but was assigned to a new school, work duties and schedule, which has negatively affected her career and daily routine with her daughter, according to court documents from the child custody case.
Bismarck Public Schools policy dictates that the district must have a similar position for a person who has been cleared of wrongdoing after an investigation, according to Human Resource Manager Stacey Geiger.
"We try to do what's least disruptive for the classroom," she said. "Of course, we can't have her come back and do custodial duties. So we do have her in the education piece, and she is working back here."