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Iowa ACLU Seeks Records on Disgraced Schools Chief
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Monday seeking records related to a closed Des Moines school board meeting that was called to discuss the resignation of a superintendent who was caught sending sexually explicit emails.
The ACLU's Iowa chapter filed the lawsuit on behalf of former board member Graham Gillette, who has been denied access to an audio recording, minutes and other records related to the board's May 10 meeting.
The school board met in closed session for 80 minutes before publicly accepting the resignation of Superintendent Nancy Sebring, who had exchanged sexually explicit emails with a lover using the district's computers. The board also voted to appoint Thomas Ahart as accepting superintendent.
A schools spokesman didn't immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
The lawsuit argues that the meeting should have been open, and the records should be public. Gillette said in a statement Monday that he believes board members went behind closed doors improperly "to strategize on how to handle themselves politically in the wake of an uncomfortable situation."
After the meeting, Board President Teree Caldwell-Johnson said that Sebring had accelerated her planned departure to become superintendent for Omaha's public schools for personal reasons and did not reveal the email violations. Weeks later, it became clear that Sebring resigned after she was found to have used the district's email system to send and receive the private, sexually explicit emails, which were published in Iowa's and Nebraska's largest newspapers. She lost the Omaha job amid an uproar.
In its meeting notice, the board invoked an Iowa law that says meetings can be closed to "evaluate the professional competency of an individual whose appointment, hiring, performance, or discharge is being considered when necessary to prevent needless and irreparable injury to that individuals' reputation." Sebring had requested the meeting be closed.
Caldwell-Johnson said on May 10 that Sebring's performance or potential discharge had not been discussed during the meeting and she was unsure what reputational harm that having it open would cause, the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit claims the meeting should not have been closed because Sebring had already resigned in a May 9 email to board members, and Ahart automatically became the acting superintendent as a result. Because Sebring's reputation has been damaged by the publication of the emails, the school board can no longer argue that shielding the records is needed to protect her, according to the lawsuit.
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