A long-time elementary teacher in Benson, Minnesota, about 150 miles west of St. Paul, is in custody after surveillance footage from his classroom allegedly showed him forcing young boys to grope his groin area.
Last Friday, Roger Joseph Ebnet, 59, who teaches second grade at Northside Elementary School in Benson, was arrested after reports indicated he forced at least three boys, ages 7 and 8, to touch him inappropriately.
On December 1, Ebnet allegedly had one boy sit between his legs and instructed the other students in the classroom to close their eyes and face the opposite direction. According to the criminal complaint, Ebnet then sat "up slightly" and placed "the boy's hand" so that it was underneath his — meaning Ebnet's — "groin area."
That same day, video footage allegedly showed Ebnet positioning another boy between his legs and placing that child's hands behind his back so that they were close to Ebnet's groin. At that point, "Roger Ebnet continue[d] to squeeze his thighs and make upward movements with his groin towards the child’s bottom," the complaint alleged.
A similar incident with yet a third boy had allegedly occurred the day before. Ebnet compelled that boy's hand to be placed behind his back as well, at which point, Ebnet began making thrust-like motions with his pelvis, video footage reportedly suggested.
Ebnet was arrested and charged with three felony counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. He is currently booked in Yellow Medicine County Jail on $200,000 unconditional bond or $25,000 conditional bond. Should Ebnet post conditional bond, he would be barred from all Benson Public Schools and from interacting with all persons under age 18, including the alleged victims. He would also be forced to wear a GPS monitoring device. He is scheduled to appear in court again on December 14.
Ebnet's arrest has shocked the small town of Benson, which has fewer than 3,500 residents. He has worked for the district for 30 years and was named an Educator of Excellence in 2017 by the Minnesota Rural Education Association. In 2013, Ebnet even led an effort to bring a celebrity concert, headlined by Luke Bryan, and nearly $12,000 in funds to the Benson School District through a "Give with Target" promotion.
The Benson School District responded to Ebnet's arrest by posting the following message to its Facebook page:
"The Benson School District is aware of the pending criminal charges regarding Roger Ebnet, an employee of the School District. The School District takes the safety and security of our students very seriously and has been cooperating and will continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement in its investigation. Mr Ebnet is currently on paid administrative leave.
“This is the extent of the information the School District can provide about this matter at this time. All further data is classified as private or confidential pursuant to state and/or federal law."
Though surveillance cameras in public schools have been controversial nationally, they appear to be rather commonplace in Benson. The West Central Tribune reports that nearly all areas of Benson schools may be under surveillance, including common areas, classrooms, and outdoor properties. Even bathrooms and locker rooms may have cameras installed under certain conditions, as long as the superintendent approves.