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Despite meetings, mediation, ND mother's lawsuit against school officials remains unsettled

Katie Pinke

WISHEK, N.D. — A federal lawsuit alleging school officials infringed upon a mother's right to parent by restricting her access to school property remains unsettled, even after a mediation attempt.

Katie Pinke, the mother of two elementary students, was banned from school property in November. She filed a lawsuit Feb. 5 claiming the Wishek School Board's unanimous Nov. 13 vote to require her to notify and get approval from Superintendent Shawn Kuntz before visiting school property was retaliation for her complaints about how school officials handled an incident the month before.

She's suing Kuntz and Wishek School Board, which is comprised of President Curt Meidinger, Vice President Melissa Kaseman-Wolf and members Bruce Herr, Trina Schilling and Dynette Ketterling.

Even after four hours of meetings May 21 and a mediation effort by U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles S. Miller Jr. — which took place in the same Wishek Public School complex from which Pinke is banned — the lawsuit remains unsettled.

The board met for an hour with attorney Rachel Bruner, and then held discussions in executive session. Michelle Lang, a representative from the North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund, which insures political subdivisions, was also present at the meeting. The judge met privately with the Pinkes and their counsel, Michael Mulloy.

Negotiations between attorneys are expected to continue. The school so far has paid Bruner's firm more than $3,600.

The ban is rooted in a contentious Oct. 10 meeting between Pinke and her husband, Nathan, Kuntz and Elementary Principal Renae Bosch. The Pinkes expressed concerns about the handling of an Oct. 9 incident in which a fourth-grader brought to school what was later determined to be a non-functioning starter's pistol.

The gun incident was not publicly revealed by the administration until the next day. Although the school board's monthly regular meeting was scheduled the evening of the incident, administrators did not inform the board.

The board responded with an Oct. 12 special meeting, attended by about 100 people, to explain what happened. Meidinger said then that the board should have been in the loop.

Kaseman-Wolf complained about news coverage of the incident. The story broke in The Forum. Pinke works for Forum Communications Co., which also owns The Forum, as publisher of Agweek.

"When the media finds out about this stuff, that makes me question our patrons as a whole," Kaseman-Wolf said.

Pinke filmed the meeting and posted it on her blog. It also was posted on a Forum Communications website. She alleges the ban was an attempt to suppress free speech.

Pinke is a member of the Wishek City Council. She and her husband have been consistent critics of Kuntz and, allegedly, some members of the faculty. Meidinger said in November, "She (Pinke) has not been very polite to the staff."

Kaseman-Wolf said in the Nov. 13 meeting, before the vote to ban Pinke, "We're out of second chances for her, as far as I'm concerned."

Pinke counters that no school official ever spoke to her about behavior.

She also contends she should have been made aware of the impending ban and should have had the opportunity to defend herself at the meeting.

No charges and no restraining order were ever brought against Pinke. However, the suit alleges that Kuntz asked the Wishek Police Department to patrol the school Jan. 23 to make sure she didn't attempt entry into a basketball game. That's what triggered the lawsuit.

Pinke's suit seeks a monetary judgment for unspecified damages and attorney's fees.

The ban apparently is a moot point. According to school Business Manager Alyssa Conitz, it expired May 22, the last day of the school year.

Nathan Pinke could have a say in future policies. He's running for a seat on the school board, a position he formerly held. Herr and Schilling are running for re-election on June 12.

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