A Minnesota middle school teacher has confessed to sexually assaulting her 15-year-old foster son, who was her former student, KQDS-TV reports. Karla Winterfeld, 33, was arrested May 21 and is being held on a first-degree criminal sexual conduct charge, records show.
Winterfeld has worked for several years as a teacher at Lincoln Park Middle School in Duluth, Minnesota, and has been recognized as one of Duluth’s top teachers and as one of “the community’s young do-gooders.” The Duluth Police Department said in a press release, “The victim in this case has been identified and we have not been made aware of or believe there are other victims.”
She has been placed on paid administrative leave by the Duluth school district, a spokesperson told the Duluth News Tribune. Officials called the allegations, “shocking and disappointing.” The school district added that it is cooperating with the police investigation and “the safety and well-being of students is our topmost priority.” Winterfeld was represented by a public defender at her first court appearance, but he did not comment about the accusations. Winterfeld and her family have also not issued statements about her arrest.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Winterfeld Admitted to ‘Multiple Sex Acts’ With the Victim & Police Say They Recovered Videos, Photos, Text Messages & Other Evidence
Karla Jean Winterfeld admitted to “multiple sexual acts” with the victim that took place between May 4 and May 19, according to the criminal complaint filed in the case and obtained by Heavy. Investigators said in the complaint that they obtained video recordings, web searches, photographs, text messages and other evidence supporting the accusations against Winterfeld.
“We have a violation of the public trust,” Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jon Holets said in court Wednesday, according to the Duluth News Tribune. “It’s a violation of the trust placed in her by the school district and by the public as a whole.” Winterfeld appeared in court wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and stood behind protective glass answering questions from the judge about her employment and income level. She had applied for a public defender, but had that request denied. The judge told her that she could get a public defender if she loses her job, which pays $72,926 per year, according to the News Tribune.
According to the criminal complaint, investigators served a search warrant to locate evidence from cellphones belonging to Winterfeld and the victim. Police have not said how the investigation began. That search turned up evidence that included video recordings of the “sexual acts,” police said. Winterfeld made a “full confession to multiple penetrative sexual acts,” according to the criminal complaint. The “sexual acts” occurred at the home in Duluth where both Winterfeld and the victim live.
It is not clear when the 15-year-old boy moved in with Winterfeld as her foster child. He was previously her student, according to police. In 2016, Winterfeld told the News Tribune that she was in foster care herself as a child. In that profile of her, Winterfeld said the most influential person in her life was a guardian ad litem who helped her when she was a foster child, telling the newspaper, “she looked out for what was best for me and never gave up on me when other people did. She believed in me and always encouraged me to do my best and follow my heart.”
2. She Has Taught in Duluth Since 2007 & Has Been Most Recently Teaching Health Classes to At-Risk Students
Winterfeld has taught in the Duluth school district since 2007, according to her Linkedin profile. She began her career at Morgan Park Middle School and then was moved to Lincoln Park Middle School in 2012. She has taught both health and special education and most recently has been working at Lincoln Park and in the Area Learning Center’s Academic Excellence Online program. She has focused on helping the “most at-risk” students and families at the school, according to the district’s website.
According to her Linkedin profile, Winterfeld graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth with degrees in health education and psychology. She then graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Superior with a master’s degree in special education and from Concordia St. Paul University with a master’s degree in education. “I have been in education for 10 years. My first two years of teaching I spent teaching health education and physical education,” she told the Duluth News Tribune in 2016. “The last eight years I have been working with students who have emotional behavior disabilities, but I am returning to teach health education this school year.”
School district officials told the Duluth News Tribune that Winterfeld was not the subject of any previous work complaints. She will receive on paid leave pending further action by the Duluth school board, according to the News Tribune.
3. Winterfeld Is Married, Has a Young Daughter, Works as a Personal Trainer, Including With a Youth Soccer Team, & Has Volunteered as a Mentor
Karla Winterfeld, whose maiden name is Karla Woodfill, has been married to her husband, Robb Winterfeld, since 2011, marriage license records show. They both graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Robb Winterfeld is also in education, working as an art teacher and track coach at a local high school. The couple has a young daughter, born in 2015, together.
Along with her work as a teacher, Winterfeld has also been a personal trainer at local gyms and for a youth soccer team, according to the Proctor Soccer website. She has worked as a group fitness instructor and personal trainer since 2004, and has been kettlebell and TRX certified since 2012. “I have been working with local soccer teams on their strength and conditioning since 2010,” she wrote in her profile on the soccer team’s website.
According to the school district’s website, Winterfeld, “is involved with the Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, St. Louis County Social Services, and Mentor Duluth, among others.”
4. She Has Been Recognized as a Top Teacher & Was Named to the Duluth News Tribune’s ’20 Under 40′ List in 2016 Along With Her Husband
In 2016, Winterfeld received the Greg Irons Award, which is akin to a teacher of the year award. She was nominated by the Lincoln Middle School’s principal, who wrote, “Karla makes a dynamic impact in her classroom. She builds relationships with our most at-risk students and families and is a breath of fresh air to inspire anyone she is around. She has an aptitude to see what needs to be done and carries out actions to address issues and to assist where needed. Students will tell you that Mrs. Winterfeld has been their inspiration at school and they have grown in strength and ability when facing life’s challenges due to her support.”
According to Lincoln Park Middle School’s Facebook page, “Greg Irons devoted his professional and personal life to teaching, serving, and providing all students, including those with special needs, with opportunities for success. The work of the award recipient is characterized by exceptional personal commitment. Nominees are teachers or school staff who demonstrate their belief that all students have worth and the desire to succeed and that responsibility, sincerity, honesty and hard work are the foundation of a person’s life. Nominees have made significant contributions by directly assisting students to experience success and to become responsible and participating members of the community. That contribution is evidenced by the support and encouragement given to students in all their endeavors. This special effort extends beyond the regular school day or activities during which the nominee has contact with students.”
Winterfeld was also nominated twice for the Goldfine Gold Star Teacher Award, which recognizes outstanding educators in the Duluth school district.
In 2016, she and her husband were both named to the Duluth News Tribune’s “20 Under 40” list, which “which recognize the community’s young do-gooders,” according to the newspaper’s website. She told the newspaper about her community involvement, “I am a mentor through Mentor Duluth. Through that program my husband and I get to work with awesome kids and families. We love that we get to build relationships with the youth in our community, spending time with them as well as with their families. I also volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club of the Northland and serve on their scholarship board. I am a personal trainer and group fitness instructor on the side. I also work with the Denfeld girls’ soccer team, Denfeld boys’ soccer team and Proctor boys’ soccer team on strength and conditioning.”
She told the newspaper that she moved to Duluth to attend college and never left. “I love to spend time with my family, friends and the kids we mentor. I love to exercise and be active. I enjoy running, weight lifting, biking, rollerblading, kayaking, hiking and anything that keeps my body moving. I also enjoy baking and sharing the goods I bake with others. Spending time at our family cabins, camping and exploring the North Shore also top the list,” she said.
Winterfeld told the newspaper her biggest accomplishment was “becoming a mom.” When asked her goals in the next five to 10 years, she said she wanted to, “grow our family by one and to continue doing my best to make a difference in the lives of students in my classroom as well as with those I have the honor of working with in the community, and to do more traveling with my family.”
5. Winterfeld, Who Is Being Held on $100,000 Bail, Faces Up to 30 Years in Prison If Convicted
Winterfeld is being held on $100,000 bail at the St. Louis County Jail, according to online records. She was initially arrested by the Duluth Police Department on a charge of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a victim between the ages of 13 to 15, but the charge was later upgraded by the St. Louis County Attorney’s office to first-degree criminal sexual conduct, the most serious sexual assault charge under Minnesota law. If convicted, she faces up to 30 years in prison. Prosecutors said in court that sentencing guidelines call for a presumptive 12-year prison sentence for an offender with no criminal history who is convicted of that charge, according to the Duluth News Tribune.
According to the News Tribune, Winterfeld was represented by a public defender, J.D. Schmid, during the arraignment, but she will have to hire a private attorney for future court appearances, unless she loses her job. Schmid asked for supervised release, citing her ties to the community and lack of criminal history, but Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jon Holets argued she was a flight risk and stressed the seriousness of the charge.
Sixth Judicial District Judge David Johnson eventually set her bail at $100,000 because of the nature of the charge. She was also referred to the state’s intensive supervised release program, which is provided for the highest-risk offenders and “includes four face-to-face contacts weekly, electronic home monitoring, mandatory work or school, daily curfews, mandatory restitution, and random drug testing.” She was also ordered to not have contact with the victim or anyone under the age of 18 if released on bail.
Winterfeld is due back in court on June 12.