As reported in the Quad City Times, Cedar County District Judge Mark Smith has ordered members of the Durant School Board to serve 30 days in the Cedar County Jail for violating a court order in how the board was to restore Monica Rouse to her job as Durant High School principal.
In his written ruling, Judge Smith wrote that “[g]iven the actions of the school board members, the Court finds that they should be individually fined the sum of $500 and shall serve 30 days in the Cedar County Jail.” Judge Smith said, however, that school board members could avoid the contempt ruling by giving Rouse “all of her duties, privileges, authority and rights that she enjoyed prior to her termination as principal of Durant High School.” It is not clear how much time the board has to comply.
The three-year legal battle began when Rouse was escorted off the school grounds Sept. 17, 2009, by then-Superintendent Duane Bark. Rand Wonio of the Davenport law firm Lane & Waterman, which is representing the school district, released a statement Friday on behalf of the school board, saying it will “review the order with counsel and determine how to proceed in the very near future.” Superintendent Duane Bennett said Friday the board will react to the judge’s order after its next meeting. He declined further comment.
The Durant Community School District distributed an agenda for a special board meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the school for a closed session to “discuss matters that are presently in litigation.” “They need to react to the ruling on Monday,” Rouse’s attorney, Cathy Cartee of Davenport, said. “I expect compliance by Monday. If they haven’t complied with the court order by Monday afternoon, I’m going to ask that they go to jail.”
The board had voted to fire Rouse in March 2010, claiming various counts of wrongdoing. Rouse was principal for 11 years before the board fired her. She appealed her termination to the Iowa Supreme Court and won earlier this year, returning to work April 23.
Bennett and Fargo, the school board president, admitted at an Aug. 27 contempt hearing that Rouse was not allowed access to student records, to her old computer or to the entire Durant High School facility for several months after she returned as principal.
Rouse testified that district leaders directed her not to interact with students or staff and denied her an office with the other administrators, including Anthony Neumann. Neumann was hired as high school principal while the school board was appealing a district court’s decision to reinstate Rouse. He has been rehired as co-principal for the current school year. Fargo testified the board met April 12 about Rouse and directed Bennett to divide principal duties between her and Neumann.
Smith talked about Neumann’s status in his ruling, saying the board can keep Neumann but not prevent Rouse from assuming all of the same principal duties she previously had. “However, the board cannot hire an additional principal to avoid, defeat or undermine the court order,” he wrote. Judge Smith wrote that the district should place Rouse in an office with the administrative staff and allow her to access the administrative staff as she did prior to her termination. He also ordered the board and the school district pay $12,000 in attorney fees.
Source: Quad City Times, 9/29/12, By Brian Wellner
[Editor's Note: UPDATE: Since first reporting this, the Quad City Times reported that on October 1, 2012, the Durant School Board voted in closed session to fully restore Rouse to her position of principal of Durant High School. High school co-principal Tony Neumann has agreed to give up his position in order to jointly administer the district’s K-8 program with Rebecca Stineman, the board said.
In September 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Los Angeles Times, which reported that New Mexico Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera had suspended the entire school board of the Questa Independent School District in northern New Mexico, saying that state officials would take over the running of the board. Secretary Skandera cited the regular fisticuffs, chaotic meetings, and required police presence as some of the reasons for the takeover.
In September 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Des Moines Register, which reported that the Iowa chapter of the ACLU had filed suit under the state public records law against a Des Moines school district seeking materials from a May 2012 school board meeting closed to the public, after which the school board voted to accept the now-former superintendent’s resignation.]