DURANT, Iowa — Members of the Durant School Board have been ordered to serve 30 days in the Cedar County Jail for violating a court order, a judge ruled Friday.
Cedar County District Judge Mark Smith decided in a written ruling that board members violated a court order in how they restored Monica Rouse to her old job as Durant High School principal.
“Given 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,” Smith wrote in his ruling.
The judge 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’s 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.”
Cartee said, “It’s not hard to stick her desk in the principal’s office.”
On Friday, Rouse was sitting in an empty storage room in the elementary school wing of the building it shares with the high school.
“I’m elated,” Rouse said, declining further comment on her attorney’s advice.
Co-principal Anthony Neumann refused to come out of the Durant High School’s principal’s office to speak Friday.
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.
The judge named past board members Dick Stoltenberg, Sheila Compton and Steve Ralfs and current board members Brian Fargo and Joe Meincke in his ruling.
The board’s statement Friday said the order improperly includes Ralfs, Compton and Stoltenberg, who were not on the board when Rouse returned in April.
Cartee also agreed that those three were part of an earlier contempt charge. She said Friday’s ruling should instead apply to current board members Ron Alpen, Barb Reasner and Russ Paustian, in addition to Fargo and Meincke.
Efforts to reach any of the board members for comment Friday were unsuccessful.
The board had voted to fire Rouse in March 2010, claiming various counts of wrongdoing. 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 wasn’t 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 Neumann.
Fargo testified the board met April 12 about Rouse and directed Bennett to divide principal duties between her and Neumann.
The combined annual salaries of the two principals cost the district $155,000. The high school has 250 students.
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.
He 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.
“The court has made an impression on the school board,” Cartee said. “You have to follow a court order.”
“All they had to do was give her her job back,” Cartee added.
Several Durant residents interviewed Friday say they support Rouse and wish the legal battle would end.
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“I think it went on way too long,” Don Place said.
He thought Rouse has been unfairly treated.
“If I’ve learned anything in the last 20 years, it’s that you don’t get by ever treating people that way,” he said, referring to when Rouse was escorted off the school grounds and the efforts since to keep her from returning to her old post.
“My message to the board would be the same thing I tell my kids,” Place said. “It’s just as easy being nice as not being nice. The board was intent on not being nice.”
Freda Fusco called the firing of Rouse a “witch hunt,” saying the board didn’t investigate all of its claims against her.
“Some people just want to show their authority,” she said.
Her grandchildren were fond of Rouse when they had her as a principal, Fusco said.
Rouse was principal for 11 years before the board fired her.
Jo Samuels’ children attended Durant while Rouse was principal, and she would like to see her as principal again.
“It’s been hard on everybody, the community, the kids, Monica,” Samuels said.
She added several faculty members have left Durant over the principal controversy.
“This whole terrible thing has been hard on kids,” Bob Ellsworth said.
He’s lived in Durant since 1960 and had his children and some of his grandchildren go through the school system there.
“I hope all of this comes to an end,” Ellsworth said.