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Judge threatens jail for Iowa school board members

September 29, 2012

DURANT - An Iowa judge threatened members of a local school board with jail time Friday if they don't comply with a court order to fully reinstate a fired high school principal.

District Court Judge Mark Smith found the Durant School Board members in contempt for violating a court order to restore Principal Monica Rouse to her original status as head administrator at Durant High School, the Quad-City Times reported.

The judge ruled that members who ignored the ruling will each face 30 days in jail and a $500 fine unless they grant Rouse all of the duties, privileges, powers and rights that she previously enjoyed.

The district's former superintendent placed Rouse on paid leave in fall 2009 after receiving allegations of mismanagement. The school board fired Rouse in March 2010, claiming she failed to keep accurate student records and taught independent study programs without the proper license, among other allegations.

In March 2011, District Court Judge Nancy Tabor ordered the district to rehire Rouse, a decision later upheld by the Iowa Court of Appeals. Tabor found the allegations against Rouse were generally not supported by evidence or were minor issues that did not justify her termination. Tabor called Rouse, who had been in the job since 1999, a "competent and devoted principal."

Rouse returned to her job in April, but board members and Superintendent Duane Bennett admitted in an August contempt hearing that Rouse wasn't allowed access to the whole high school, her old computer or student records for several months after returning as principal.

"All they had to do was give her her job back," Rouse's attorney, Cathy Cartee of Davenport, said after the ruling was filed Friday.

Smith named Dick Stoltenberg, Brian Fargo, Sheila Compton, Steve Ralfs and Joel Meincke in his ruling. An attorney representing the school district could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

Rouse testified that district leaders told her not to interact with students or staff, and denied her an office with the other administrators, including co-principal Anthony Neumann.

Neumann was hired while the school board was appealing a district court's decision to reinstate Rouse. He has been rehired for the current school year.

Fargo, the school board president, testified that the board met April 12 about Rouse and told Bennett to divide principal duties between her and Neumann.

"Where in the court order does it state 'restore her as co-principal'?" the judge asked Fargo at the hearing.

Fargo said Iowa law allows a high school to have two principals.

The combined annual salaries of the two principals cost the district $155,000. The high school has 250 students.



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