Centerville school board trial moved to June

Jan. 29—CENTERVILLE — A new date for the civil trial concerning the Centerville school board and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council has been set.

The trial will begin on Wednesday, June 12 after being postponed from its original date of Jan. 10. The five-month delay came as a result of weather concerns during the recent series of winter storms.

The IFOIC filed the suit in May following reports of a closed session to determine the employment and professional competency of Ryan Hodges, a former guidance counselor at Centerville High School, which was held Feb. 3. During the session, the district says it was determined that Hodges reportedly no longer had the professional competency to maintain his position.

The IFOIC is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that pursues government transparency issues in Iowa. The Ottumwa Courier is a funding member of the IFOIC, and its general manager and editor Kyle Ocker sits on the nonprofit’s board of trustees.

At 7:03 p.m., the meeting returned to an open session and School Board member Derek Carter moved to approve of Hodges’s resignation. The motion passed unanimously and the meeting was adjourned at 7:04 p.m.

In the council’s trial brief, it was noted that Hodges was placed on administrative leave three months earlier and resigned earlier that week, the board ratified a deal “in secret through the guise of completing a performance evaluation.”

Hodges has been accused of sexual misconduct with a former student. This student filed her own lawsuit in November, citing bullying after accusing Hodges.

The district claims that the open meetings law, or chapter 21 of the Iowa Code, was not violated, as the code states that a 24-hour notice has to be given “prior to the commencement of any meeting of a governmental body unless for good cause such notice is impossible or impractical, in which case as much notice as is reasonably possible shall be given.”

The district also claims that all statutory predicates for a closed session were met. The reason for the closed session provided by the defense’s trial brief was that Hodges had requested a closed session, because he was concerned about potential harm to his reputation if the matters were discussed in a public forum.

Donald Promnitz is the associate editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @DonPromnitz.

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