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Parent banned from ND school after dispute about gun on grounds

Katie Pinke

WISHEK, N.D.—School Board members in this south-central community of 952 people have voted to restrict a parent's access to the school complex.

At its Nov. 13 regular meeting, the board voted unanimously to require Katie Pinke to notify and receive clearance from superintendent Shawn Kuntz before visiting the school.

Curt Meidinger, board president, said in a follow-up interview with The Wishek Star that the restriction applies during the school day, as well as to after-school activities, such as sports events and concerts, unless prior approval is granted. It is in effect for the rest of the 2017-18 term.

The board's action came in the wake of a discussion that occurred last month in the office of Wishek Elementary School Principal Renae Bosch.

Pinke and her husband, Nathan, visited the school the day after an elementary student brought to class what police later said was a non-functioning track meet starter's pistol of 1960s vintage.

The school alleges Katie Pinke was loud, verbally abusive and disrespectful during the discussion. But Pinke disputed that account in a weekend interview with The Wishek Star.

Pinke said that uncertainty about her children's safety after the pistol incident led her and Nathan to pick up their children at the school. She said when they arrived, Bosch initiated a discussion with the couple. Kuntz joined them.

Pinke described the discussion as "heated."

Meidinger said he was told that Katie Pinke was abusive, had brought Bosch to tears, and that voices could be heard in the next wing of the school building.

Pinke said there were no tears and that Bosch's office door was closed.

"Nathan did more talking than I did," Pinke said.

Kuntz was asked by The Wishek Star if the office door was closed, but he declined comment.

Meidinger said he and Kuntz consulted North Dakota School Board Association attorney Amy DeKok before the School Board vote to restrict Katie Pinke.

Section 15.1-06-16 of the North Dakota Century Code permits sanctioning of an individual who is alleged to have disturbed a public school.

'Enough is enough'

Board member Melissa Kaseman-Wolf made the motion to bar Katie Pinke from school property without prior approval from Kuntz. Board member Dynette Ketterling provided a second.

During discussion of the motion on the table, board member Bruce Herr argued that Pinke should be given a warning.

"I think she should be told that this can't happen again," Herr said. "It's her last chance."

But Kaseman-Wolf said past warnings have not been effective. "We're out of second chances for her, as far as I'm concerned," Kaseman-Wolf said. "Enough is enough."

The Wishek Star sought further comment from Kaseman-Wolf, but she did not respond to a voicemail message left over the weekend.

Board members, including Herr, Meidinger and Trina Schilling, joined Kaseman-Wolf and Ketterling in voting to approve the motion.

Katie Pinke was informed of the action in a letter dated Nov. 14 and signed by Kuntz.

The letter, obtained by The Wishek Star following an open records request, said Pinke has been banned "as a result of your repeated disruptive and inappropriate conduct displayed on school property ...."

But, when asked by The Wishek Star, Kuntz said the allegations against Pinke have not been documented in a file.

Pinke told The Star that she has never received a specific verbal or written warning from school officials.

Meidinger said he is unaware of any documentation, but said there have been "instances in the school." He added, "She (Pinke) has not been very polite to the staff."

An act of retaliation?

Pinke said she believes the board is retaliating because she made a video recording of an Oct. 12 special meeting the board held following the pistol incident.

Pinke, publisher of AgWeek, a Forum Communications publication, said the board action appeared to be a punitive attack on the media. The Forum, the Fargo-Moorhead newspaper owned by Forum Communications, posted the meeting video on its website, with an accompanying news story.

During the Oct. 12 meeting, Kaseman-Wolf lamented widespread news coverage of the pistol incident.

"When the media finds out about this stuff, that makes me question our patrons as a whole," Kaseman-Wolf said, "Why do you want to taint our community and school this way?"

Pinke called the board action against her a bad precedent. She said beyond an apparent effort to squelch the press, as a taxpayer and parent, she is being denied rightful access to her children. She said she and Nathan have retained legal counsel.

The letter to Pinke says her visits to the school will require prior approval from Kuntz.

"Phone calls, email and/or other forms of social media requests will not be considered. In the event you enter school property without prior approval, you will be asked to leave immediately and/or law enforcement will be contacted. You will be permitted to drop off and pick up your children at school, but are not permitted to enter the building(s) or school property without prior approval as set forth in this letter."

The letter acknowledges that Pinke has been granted prior approval to attend parent/teacher conferences and the elementary school Christmas concert.

27-hour delay

In his interviews with The Wishek Star, Meidinger also addressed issues in the wake of the incident when the student brought the starter's pistol to class.

Parents were not informed until the next day, some 27 hours later, and school board members days later. There was no lockdown. Law enforcement was not initially involved.

Meidinger said the School Board should have been in the loop and that the administration was too slow to inform the public. Meidinger was out of state on personal business when he learned an incident had occurred.

Meidinger agreed rumor, speculation and social media chatter appeared to be the catalyst for the administration to finally issue a statement and involve the police.

Pinke said Bosch acknowledged to her that the weapon was returned to the student's parents on the day of the incident, breaking the chain of custody.

Law enforcement officers examined what was believed to be the weapon in question the next day, describing it as a non-functioning track and field starter's pistol, closely resembling a Ruger LCP handgun.

Meidinger said last month that Kuntz's handling of the incident would be addressed during the superintendent evaluation that is routinely done in the fall.

The board reviewed results of that evaluation with Kuntz during the Nov. 13 regular meeting. Board members rated Kuntz's job performance as satisfactory in most areas.

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