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Bettendorf parent files lawsuit against teacher, school board, district

Bettendorf parent files lawsuit against teacher, school board, district

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Bettendorf Hearing

About 40 supporters for middle school teacher Mark Kuntz stayed until after 2 a.m. Tuesday morning to see what the Bettendorf School Board would decide to do with the district's recommendation to terminate his contract. The board voted unanimously to reinstate Kuntz. 

The parent of a Bettendorf Middle School sixth grader has filed suit against the school, Bettendorf School District and teacher Mark Kuntz after a classroom incident Sept. 5, 2019.

Kuntz, a longtime math teacher for the district, had transferred to a middle-school health position in June 2019.

Here’s what the lawsuit, filed March 13 through attorney Ciara L. Vesey by Dominique Scott, parent of a sixth grader known as “D.C.,” alleges:

The alleged 2019 classroom incident

D. C., in a health class Kuntz was teaching, had a verbal argument with other students, and Kuntz asked her to leave the classroom. The suit says D.C. did not physically or verbally harm another student.

D.C. asked Kuntz not to physically contact her before she left the classroom.

D.C. was trying to leave the classroom when Kuntz physically restrained her arms and pushed her outside the classroom door and into the hallway. He continued to push her against a locker with her arms behind her back. He then took her down to the floor and placed his weight on her back and legs.

Several students in the classroom witnessed Kuntz visibly upset and/or angry at D.C. and saw him get her arms behind her back and push her out of the classroom.

She sustained injuries in the form of past and future:

  • medical expenses
  • physical and mental pain and suffering
  • mental anguish and emotional distress
  • loss of function of the mind and body
  • future loss of earnings
  • loss of earning capacity.

The lawsuit: Who is at fault

The suit calls Kuntz’s actions “willful, wanton, reckless, outrageous and in disregard of the known and obvious risks to D.C.” and calls him negligent.

The plaintiffs say they suffered from severe emotional distress, the fear and worry that this incident may be repeated by other teachers or adults in the future with no repercussions, and the shock of the invasion of the security of the child and family, and that they have suffered from serious physical and mental injuries and effects after the “assault and battery.”

The suit says the school district “owes a duty of care to minor students to supervise them, keep them safe from harm and injury, properly train and supervise its employees, and keep minor students free from child abuse from its staff,” and that the district “breached its duties” and was negligent.

“(The school board) has a duty to refrain from hiring and/or retaining employees who commit child abuse against minor students, and to refrain from hiring and/or retaining employees who harm or present harm or danger to minor students,” the suit says.

By offering employment to Kuntz for the 2019-2020 school year after he “physically assaulted” a sixth-grade Bettendorf Middle School student in 2018, and by retaining Kuntz in his employment after he “physically assaulted and battered” D.C. in September 2019, “the negligence of the Defendant Bettendorf School Board was a proximate cause" of sustained injuries, the suit says.

The 2019 reinstatement

In a Dec. 13, 2019, article on the Davis Brown Law Firm website, an article refers to Becky Knutson, shareholder attorney in the education department, who represented Kuntz in a Chapter 279, Code of Iowa, hearing before the Bettendorf School Board.

“Mr. Kuntz, a teacher at Bettendorf Middle School, had been out of the classroom for 10 weeks following the decision (sic) the superintendent of Bettendorf Community School District to recommend his termination,” the website post says.

“With the support of many fellow teachers, former students and parents, Kuntz and Knutson were able to convince the board to unanimously support Kuntz’ reinstatement.”

Knutson leads the firm’s education department advocating for teachers in issues related to their employment and professional licensure.

A show of support

More than 70 people turned out Nov. 11.-Nov. 12, 2019, to support Kuntz, who faced a termination hearing. At 2:35 a.m. Nov. 12, when the hearing ended, about 40 people waited for their colleague and friend in the high school library and hallway.

The board voted unanimously to reinstate Kuntz, who had been out of the classroom for 10 weeks.

The district did not name Kuntz until the final vote.

Kuntz, as did many of his supporters, wore "red for ed" in solidarity. His supporters also wore red to two earlier meetings, where Kuntz's potential termination was discussed.

“I have been humbled and blessed to have all this support,” Kuntz said after the vote.

At the time, Kuntz said he “escorted a disruptive student from the classroom.” Documentation of the incident, the district confirmed, is a closed personnel issue.

The board voted to close the meeting, without public input from Kuntz.

If the superintendent recommends termination of a contract, the licensed employee may request a “private hearing” with the board, board policy states.

Knutson said the possibility of an open hearing has been much debated, but the chapter of Iowa Code from which board policy was written specified the hearing should be private.

Many witnesses were called to testify in support of Kuntz.

A crowd of Bettendorf teachers and supporters also came to two October board meetings where Kuntz's hearing was discussed. On Oct. 7, about 50 people attended, and several spoke during the BEA report about the need for more training and support for teachers in reference to student interventions.

The school board voted unanimously to receive and place on file a recommendation to terminate a then-unnamed district teacher on Oct. 21, and it was confirmed the teacher was put on paid administrative leave.

Current action

The 2020 suit asks for a jury trial. Court documents continue to be filed as the suit processes through the court system.

On June 4, Wendy S. Meyer and Ian J. Russell, of Lane & Waterman LLP, entered an appearance on behalf of the Kuntz, the board and the district.

The upcoming Bettendorf School Board agenda includes a closed session involving litigation — it does not name the case — on Monday.

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