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ND mother sues to regain access to school after gun flap

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A view from 2016 of Wishek, N.D.2 / 3
Katie Pinke3 / 3

WISHEK, N.D. — A mother of two elementary students here has filed a lawsuit alleging school officials are infringing upon her right to parent by restricting her access to school property and events.

Katie Pinke's lawsuit, filed in federal court on Monday, Feb. 5, claims the Wishek School Board's unanimous vote Nov. 13 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 in which a student brought a gun to Wishek Elementary School.

The suit seeks to block visiting restrictions and requests a monetary judgement for unspecified damages and attorney's fees. It was served to six defendants: Kuntz, School Board President Curt Meidinger, Vice President Melissa Kaseman-Wolf and members Bruce Herr, Trina Schilling and Dynette Ketterling.

Messages seeking comment from Kuntz, Meidinger, Kaseman-Wolf and Rachel Bruner-Kaufman, the district's legal counsel, weren't returned Wednesday, Feb. 7.

Pinke's attorney, Micheal Mulloy, told The Forum that the school infringed upon Pinke's constitutionally protected rights to freedom of speech, due process and equal protection.

"Right now I just need the ban lifted because my fundamental right to parent my children and be involved in their public education is extremely limited, and it's not in their best interest," Pinke said.

According to the suit, those visitation restrictions stemmed from Pinke's questioning of how officials handled an Oct. 9 incident when a fourth-grader brought a gun and showed it at school. School officials later said the gun was determined to be a non-functioning starter pistol.

The incident didn't come up at the board's regular meeting that same October night, and Pinke heard about it the next day from another parent. That's when Pinke and her husband, Nathan Pinke, contacted school and police officials to get more information, but they say they didn't get a response.

The parents decided to remove their children from class Oct. 10, and called Kuntz to tell him. When they arrived at the school, they were asked to meet with Kuntz and Principal Renae Bosch to discuss their concerns. According to the suit, that meeting took place in Bosch's office behind a closed door, and the Pinkes made no threats.

That same day, Pinke published a post on her blog calling for a special board meeting about the incident and how it was handled.

The board held such a meeting two days later, and Pinke filmed it and posted video to her blog. Her video was also posted on The Forum's website with an article about the special meeting.

Pinke is publisher of Agweek, which is owned by Forum Communications Co. She also sits on the Wishek City Council.

The suit cites school board member comments at that meeting, including those from President Meidinger.

"The other thing that I don't ... appreciate is that when the public comes into our facility here and goes to our staff and ridicules them, tears them down, that you can hear them a wing away in the elementary wing is not appropriate to do," Meidinger said. "And I have said if this will happen again, and we've done in the past, we'll put restraining orders out as we have in the past."

At the board's Nov. 13 regular meeting, members unanimously voted to authorize Superintendent Kuntz to issue a "Disturbance of Public School order" to Pinke for the remainder of the 2017-18 school year.

A letter sent to Pinke the next day by Kuntz cited North Dakota Century Code 15.1-06-16, which says a person can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor for willfully disturbing in-session public schools, willfully interfering with or interrupting the proper order or management of a school or rebuking, insulting or threatening a teacher in the presence of a student.

According to the suit, there isn't a civil order banning her from school property.

The suit includes several letters between Pinke's attorney and the school district's attorney, as Pinke requested access to school events. On Jan. 23, Pinke's attorney told Kuntz and the board that Pinke would not recognize the district's ban and said she planned to attend basketball games on Jan. 23 and 25.

The suit claims Superintendent Kuntz then directed the Wishek Police Department to patrol the school parking lot and make sure Pinke was denied entry to the Jan. 23 game despite the lack of a court order. Pinke did not attend the game.

The defendants have 21 days to respond to the lawsuit.

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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