Elementary School Physical Education Teacher and Basketball Coach Charged with Sexually Abusing Two of His Pre-teen Players
(Saint Paul, MN) – Today in Minneapolis, after Minor Doe 601 spoke up about sexual abuse he suffered, his parents filed a civil suit on his behalf exposing a peril facing children at two publicly-renowned Minneapolis charter schools – Harvest Best Academy and The Mastery School . The lawsuit alleges Minor Doe 601 was sexually abused by Aaron Hjermstad, a basketball coach at Best Academy and physical education teacher at The Mastery School, from about 2016 to 2018. Both schools were founded by CEO and President Eric Mahmoud as part of his former network of charter schools known as the “Harvest Network.” According to their websites each school was created to serve primarily African American boys from North Minneapolis. Recently multiple survivors have come forward to report sexual abuse by Hjermstad, who is facing criminal charges.
Multiple Victims Known—Many More Believed
Earlier this month Hjermstad was criminally charged with sexually abusing former basketball players he coached at Best Academy and another facility, Hospitality House. According to the criminal charges against Hjermstad there was another report of sexual abuse made against him in the past that is now being reinvestigated. Hjermstad has been involved with youth as a coach and teacher for years and was seen by Minor Doe 601 and his parents as a positive role model and representative of Best Academy and The Mastery School. Hjermstad took advantage of his position to build trust with kids and their parents.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, a pioneer in the fight for the rights of child sexual abuse survivors who has exposed hundreds of predators through litigation, represents Minor Doe 601 and his family. “Hjermstad fits the profile of a master manipulator and serial predator,” Anderson said. “We have questions about why and how this perpetrator accessed so many kids so freely.” Anderson says with the number of boys Hjermstad coached and taught over the years, it is difficult to know exactly how many could have been abused.
Best Academy and The Mastery School Focused on Achievement Over Student Safety
Harvest Best Academy and The Mastery School were founded by CEO and President Eric Mahmoud as part of a group of charter schools known as “The Harvest Network.” The Harvest Network was made up of Best Academy, The Mastery School, and Harvest Preparatory School. All of the schools served youth primarily from North Minneapolis. For years, the Harvest Network relied on impressive student test scores to recruit youth from the area to enroll in its schools and participate in its extracurricular activities, like basketball. The Harvest Network employed a philosophy of longer school days and school years, believing that more time involved in school activities equaled better results for students. In 2018 The Harvest Network underwent a series of organizational changes, in which The Harvest Network was dissolved, and Harvest Preparatory merged with Best Academy.
“These schools do a lot of good works,” Anderson said. “This lawsuit is about both accountability and our common effort is to ensure the safety and education of all students under the care of these schools.”
“Not their fault—it’s never their fault”
Anderson says Minor Doe 601 and the other boys who have come forward – to report abuse by Hjermstad and seek accountability – are heroes. “The courage and strength it takes someone to come forward and share their story cannot be overstated,” Anderson says. “So often children feel that sexual abuse is their fault, that they are somehow complicit in a predators’ self-serving conduct. It is so important that these kids and all survivors know it’s not their fault – it’s never their fault when the adult they are taught to trust and admire sexually abuses them.”
Minor Doe 601’s mother says she is proud of her son for disclosing the abuse. She says her son just wanted to play basketball, a game he loved, and that she hopes he will continue to do so despite the abuse. She says she hopes her son’s lawsuit will also show other kids who were abused by Hjermstad that it’s okay to come forward and tell someone what happened.