Winona high school teacher accused of having sexual relationship with students: Charges

A 29-year-old teacher at Winona Senior High School is facing charges after being accused of having sexual relationships with three students.

Court documents filed Friday allege 29-year-old Eric Birth carried out sexual relationships with three students, between 16 and 18 years old, while he worked at Winona Area Public Schools. Law enforcement said all three victims reported they were struggling with personal issues at the time and confided in him, the complaint states.

According to court records, law enforcement said they received an anonymous tip in June 2023 about Birth allegedly having a sexual relationship with a student. The student initially denied the relationship and the case was closed, but she called authorities in January 2024, saying she had lied.

The student told authorities that she and Birth started texting and later met up, where he allegedly got into her car, and a sexual encounter took place. Court records indicate it happened sometime in 2022, and she told authorities he continued to "try to persuade her to have a relationship" after the encounter, charges read. 

Law enforcement said two more victims came forward reporting they also had a sexual relationship with Birth while he was their track coach. One student said they had flirted via text during the track season, and things later turned sexual. Their alleged relationship ended in 2016, according to court records. 

The other student told law enforcement she had a sexual relationship with Birth in 2017. She said at one point, Birth allegedly warned her the school might call about their relationship, and when the principal did call, she denied it, the criminal complaint claims.  

During the investigation, authorities spoke with two other track members who had reportedly seen a video on Birth’s phone of a student performing a sex act on him. The victim told authorities she did not know he had taken a video, according to court records. 

Court records indicate Birth has worked with the Winona Area Public Schools since 2016, where his occupation was a "high school coach". In 2021, he became a physical education teacher.

According to court records, Birth was placed on administrative leave at the beginning of January 2024. However, he is still listed in the staff directory as a physical education teacher at Winona Senior High School as of Feb. 17. 

Birth is facing four counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, including being in a position of authority, using coercion, and being in a prohibited occupational relationship. He made his first appearance in court on Friday. 

The school's response 

The Winona Area Public Schools issued a statement on Friday saying in part, "We understand that this news may be shocking and concerning to our school community. Please know that all school district employees are subject to a thorough background check before being hired, and are also required to complete training to reinforce policy, procedure, and our legal requirements as mandatory reporters."

The school added, "The safety of our students is a top priority. We are grateful for the efforts of the Winona Police Department and the strong partnership we have with local law enforcement."

They encouraged anyone with information about the cases to contact the Winona Police Department.