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Student's complaint over touching led to West Fargo teacher's retirement

Dan Machtell

WEST FARGO — Dan Machtell, a Cheney Middle School teacher placed on paid administrative leave Feb. 26, will not return to the classroom after district officials completed an investigation of a student's complaint that he touched her during a demonstration.

According to a school district report obtained by The Forum on Wednesday, March 13, through a public records request:

A seventh-grade student reported on Feb. 26 that the day before, Machtell touched her on the stomach and back while explaining the anatomy of an animal being studied in class. The student said Machtell had called her to his desk at the end of class to explain why she had gotten a quiz question incorrect and explained by touching her stomach and back.

The student told administrators that in January, she volunteered to demonstrate the anatomy of a dog in front of the class and was asked to sit on all fours. She said she was very uncomfortable and embarrassed by the situation. The student's father said she had told him about the situation in January, but asked him not to call the school at that time.

Machtell told administrators he would not say the student lied, but he did not recall touching the student, only waving his hands in front of her body. He said no one told him the student felt uncomfortable after the January lesson until February. He said he has used the same lesson of asking for student volunteers to pose like an animal for many years because it can help students learn the anatomy better.

"To make that concept clearer for students, I have a volunteer student become a dog for the class," Machtell told school officials. "I explain prior to asking for the volunteer that it might be embarrassing for the student."

Another teacher reported hearing the student say Feb. 27 that she was having "a really good day" because "she got a teacher suspended from school for the rest of the week and stated it was Mr. Machtell," according to the school district report.

The incident was similar to one in Machtell's personnel file from February 2015 when a parent reported Machtell had touched another student as part of a demonstration involving the dissection of a frog. Machtell told school officials his hand hovered over the student's clavicle bone to demonstrate where a frog's anatomy would be located relative to the human anatomy. He did not believe he touched the student, according to personnel records.

As part of a March 2015 evaluation, Machtell agreed not to have any physical contact with students and not to make comments pertaining to inappropriate phrases. Machtell's annual performance evaluations showed positive reviews by his supervisor.

After administrators finished the investigation into last month's incident, Machtell was sent a letter on March 8, offering him two options. He could submit a letter of resignation to the West Fargo School Board by Monday, March 11, and he would remain on paid administrative leave until the end of his 2018-19 contract. Or Superintendent Beth Slette would ask the board to consider not renewing his contract or dismissing him for cause.

On Monday, the school board approved Machtell's request to retire after 29 years of teaching in West Fargo. His retirement will be effective May 31, the end of the school year. He remains eligible for retirement benefits.

A call to Machtell's home phone number went unanswered Wednesday.