More training, security at St. Paul schools follow janitor sex abuse charges

Walter Happel
Walter Happel mug shot.
Courtesy of the Office of the Ramsey County Attorney

St. Paul Public Schools has revised its procedures for dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct in light of new charges filed against a former custodian.

Walter Happel, who resigned from the district in February, already faced a charge he'd spied on an 11-year-old boy in a school bathroom. Now, a number of other students have come forward with similar allegations.

Earlier: Charges: Parents raised red flags about St. Paul Schools custodian

The district apologized on Wednesday. Officials released a statement saying the district was "concerned and disturbed" by the new charges, adding, "we are sorry and feel terribly that this had happened, though we know this is nothing compared to how our families feel."

Happel worked most recently at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus elementary. The school's principal said Wednesday that it will get security upgrades in the coming weeks in response to the charges against Happel, in addition to the policy changes being made at the school district level.

St. Paul schools staff will be retrained on their responsibility to report suspected sexual misconduct to police. There are multiple instances in the charges where prosecutors say school employees were made aware of allegations against Happel, but didn't report them to police.

Also, principals will routinely walk through every room in their buildings to make sure nothing inappropriate is going on. The original charges against Happel in March alleged there was a secret room in the school where he kept testosterone pills and "intensifying gel."

When allegations are made, the school will review whether there has been a history of complaints. Allegations against Happel contained in the charges date back over three decades.

The district also said it is considering instituting "periodic, recurring" background checks.

Happel, 62, was charged Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court with allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior involving seven children and spanning three decades. The most serious charges he faces deal with conduct outside of school. He's accused of sexually assaulted a young relative and neighbor boy in the 1980's

He's also facing six new counts of interference of privacy for incidents where he allegedly spied on or otherwise acted inappropriately with boys at the school.

He hasn't entered a plea for the new charges. In court Wednesday, he shook his head side to side as prosecutors detailed some of the allegations against him.

Happel has pleaded not guilty to the initial charge of "surreptitious interference with privacy." When questioned by police he denied peeking at the boy in the bathroom stall. He said he was checking to see if there was a mess on the floor.

Ramsey County Judge Elana Ostby set bail at $245,000, the amount prosecutors were seeking. Defense attorney Daniel McGarry called the bail request exorbitant, though Ostby said "given the extreme seriousness of some of the allegations, there is some incentive to flee."

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