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East High School

A Madison East High School teacher is on administrative leave after hidden cameras were found in the Minneapolis hotel rooms of students he was accompanying on a field trip.

The Madison Metropolitan School District still wouldn’t release the name of the teacher on Friday, or the student group he was chaperoning, though news of the incident was widely known at East.

An East High events calendar listed a two-day field trip to Minneapolis for the school’s DECA program (Distributive Education Clubs of America) starting on Dec. 6. The program offers students an opportunity to develop business leadership skills through conferences and competitions. The entry listed two staff members who would be accompanying 15 students to the conference.

The Minneapolis Police Department is conducting the investigation into the incident, which happened at the downtown Hyatt Regency. The department has released few details, only confirming to the Wisconsin State Journal Thursday that “electronic devices” had been found in the hotel rooms.

Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said he could share no new information on Friday.

“I won’t be releasing any more additional information today,” he said, adding, “We will release information when we are sure it will not be detrimental to our case.”

Cottage Grove Police Chief Dan Layber said Friday that his department helped Minneapolis officers execute a search warrant at a home Thursday morning. Online property records list one of the teachers who accompanied the field trip and his wife as the owners of a Cottage Grove home.

“No arrest was made, so we don’t have anybody in custody and nobody’s been charged,” he said.

Layber wouldn’t confirm the address and said he couldn’t provide other details, saying, “We’re trying to help Minneapolis and make sure we don’t release anything that would damage the case against the subject.”

He said he was going to request Friday that the Dane County judge handling the case seal the search warrant records from public view.

He wouldn’t comment on the possibility of local charges stemming from the warrant, adding that Cottage Grove police became aware of the case on Wednesday.

“It’s pretty early to be speculating on potential charges here in the state and locally,” he said.

Madison's Isthmus first reported the incident on Thursday after the paper had obtained an email West High School Principal Karen Boran sent to parents. West students attended the conference, though none found cameras.

“During our trip to Minneapolis this past weekend, some East students found suspicious objects that may have been cameras in their hotel rooms,” Boran wrote in the email, according to Isthmus. “Students and adults searched the rooms and turned those devices in to hotel staff.”

Interim East High principal Brendan Kearney issued a statement Thursday informing families that students found hidden cameras in their rooms and that a staff member accompanying the students was placed on leave “as a precautionary measure.”

“Out of respect for the students and families affected, and in the interest of preserving the integrity of the police investigation, I am unable to share many details with you at this time,” he said in the statement.

Though details of the incident had become common knowledge at the school by Friday morning, East High officials still wouldn’t release the teacher’s name, the group that went on the field trip or how many students participated.

District spokesman Tim LeMonds said he couldn’t release the name of the teacher placed on leave until the Minneapolis Police Department gave the district the go-ahead.

He said students that took part in the field trip are being offered counseling resources and are “doing fine.”

“We are absolutely working with those families,” he said. “It’s very important to us that they have access to the support that they need.”

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.