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By Caroline Downs
Administrative law judge Alan Hoberg has ruled against the Kenmare Public School District in a complaint filed by the Bowbells Public School District.
Judge Hoberg found the Kenmare district guilty of violating North Dakota open enrollment statutes. At the center of the case is a letter to the editor published by former Kenmare school board president Lenny Rodin in the Burke County Tribune and The Kenmare News.
Rodin published his letter in the Burke County paper on May 23, 2011, and the Kenmare paper on June 15, 2011. His action followed a decision by the Kenmare school board earlier in May 2011 to change the pick-up and drop-off site for kids in Bowbells whose parents exercised their right to open enroll their children in Kenmare public schools.
The Bowbells district filed the complaint with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction on June 27, 2011.
The Kenmare district previously used the Lakeshore crossing along U.S. Highway 52 east of Bowbells as a bus stop for students from Bowbells. However, parents of some of the children affected requested a site within the Bowbells city limits.
As president of the Kenmare school board at the time, Rodin said the parents’ interest in safe transportation for their children was considered. He also said he wrote and submitted the letter as board president with the intention of diffusing tensions in the situation on behalf of the parents involved.
Testimony in the case was presented August 23, 2012, with briefs required from attorneys representing both parties by October 5th.
Witnesses called at the August hearing included Rodin; Kenmare school district superintendent Duane Mueller; retired Bowbells school district superintendent Brent Johnston; Tim Bryan of the Bowbells school board; and, by phone, parents Denise Chrest, Tami Chrest and Kelly Holter, all of Bowbells.
Results of the judge’s ruling were sent to both school districts last week.
Superintendent Mueller said the penalty assessed after the judge’s finding will be determined by Dr. Wayne Sanstead, North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction. “We’ll have to wait and see on that,” Mueller said. “We don’t know when that will occur.”
According to North Dakota Century Code, if the state superintendent finds that a school district has committed a violation, he or she may choose to withhold some or all of the state aid payments received by the district for a period of one year from the date of the ruling.
Bus continues to Bowbells
Superintendent Mueller emphasized the violation was related only to the matter of the letters to the editor, which could be considered a form of recruiting students to open enroll in another school district.
“From the beginning of this case, people have been focused on the bus going into Bowbells to pick up the Kenmare school students,” he said, “but that’s not the violation.”
ND Century Code allows a school district to bus students who have open-enrolled in the district’s schools.
According to Superintendent Mueller, no changes have been made in procedures regarding children from Bowbells or any other community enrolled in the Kenmare school district. “We are still providing transportation to our open-enrolled students,” he said.