ACLU of Iowa News

Des Moines School Board Admits to “Inappropriate” Closed Meeting in Sebring Case

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The board will also comply with a ruling to also make minutes and recordings of those portions of the meeting available to the public.

December 10, 2013

In a settlement approved by a Polk County District Court judge today (December 10, 2013), the Des Moines School Board admits that during a meeting in which it discussed the pending resignation of then-superintendent Nancy Sebring, it discussed matters that the court concluded were inappropriate. It also will comply with a judge’s earlier ruling and make public records of those portions of meeting during which the law was violated.

The ACLU of Iowa, on behalf of Des Moines resident Graham Gillette, brought the lawsuit against the school board, saying it improperly went into a special closed-door meeting on May 10, 2012, to discuss the pending public revelation of a number of sexually explicit emails written by Sebring using district email. A trial had been set for a few days from now, December 17.

The judge in the case has already ruled that significant portions of the board’s discussion “did not directly relate to the stated reason for going into closed session.” Today’s settlement stipulates the public release of the audio recording and written minutes of those portions of the meeting.

Settlement Shows the Seriousness of the Case

Gillette, a former school board member, said in light of the court’s earlier ruling the school board violated the law, he is satisfied with today’s settlement. “Over the last 18 months, the Des Moines school district has needlessly spent precious educational resources making good on its pledge to ‘vigorously defend’ the board against what was described by a district official as ‘an entirely frivolous lawsuit.’ This settlement shows the case was both serious and substantial. The school board acted inappropriately.”

Gillette said he hopes the settlement has lasting impact. “Pursuit of this matter will prove to have been worthwhile if this settlement convinces the Des Moines school board that public meeting laws cannot be circumvented.”

Last spring, before the revelations about her emails, Sebring had announced her resignation, effective at the end of June, from the Des Moines schools to take the superintendent’s position with the Omaha public schools. But in early May, she found out that the media was getting ready to break a story about her writing sexually explicit emails using her district account. The district also became aware of the emails.

The May 10 closed session lasted 80 minutes and much of it covered the legal, stated reason for going into closed session.

Strayed From the Stated Reason for Closing

But the board strayed from the stated reason for closing, including discussion of what to say in public about Sebring’s actions. The ACLU and Gillette requested the written minutes and audio recordings of any portion of the May 10, 2012, meeting that did not comply with Iowa’s open meetings law, and it is the audio recording and written minutes of those portions of the meeting that are being made publicly available.

Randall Wilson, general counsel for the ACLU of Iowa, said, “We’re reasonably certain that this settlement assures the immediate and full disclosure of all the information the public was entitled to. It’s unfortunate that it look a lawsuit to accomplish that.”

Click on the link below to see the minutes of the portions of the meeting that were improperly closed:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B08xl-0HdN2sVURxNDJLZVZKeVk/edit?usp=sharing

Click on the links below to hear the recordings of those portions, which are even more revealing than the minutes. 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B08xl-0HdN2sNkJodkhPM0RpRnM/edit?usp=sharing

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B08xl-0HdN2sem9DUTZiUVEzNDg/edit?usp=sharing

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B08xl-0HdN2sN01aOHAtbmdfZ2c/edit?usp=sharing

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B08xl-0HdN2sSmNOdzFjUFRPWTQ/edit?usp=sharing

If you click on the underlined link, above, at 4:39, you can hear Des Moines School Board President Teree Caldwell-Johnson instructing the board to tell people who ask that Sebring resigned early because she needed to have additional time to prepare for her transition.

Posted December 10, 2013 

 

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