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Parent sues Cedar Rapids schools after being banned from board meetings
Russell Hotchkiss was banned for being ‘disruptive and threatening’
CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids resident is suing the Cedar Rapids Community School District, saying he was wrongly banned from school property until further notice.
Russell Hotchkiss was banned from district property Jan. 10, 2022, for “disruptive and threatening behavior,” according to a letter to him cited in the lawsuit from former Superintendent Noreen Bush. Hotchkiss’ child was in first grade at Hiawatha Elementary School in the Cedar Rapids district at the time.
Bush died Oct. 23, 2022, more than two and a half years after being diagnosed with cancer.
Failure to adhere to the no trespass order would result in Hotchkiss’ removal from district property and could include assistance from law enforcement, according to the letter. The letter was delivered to Hotchkiss’ home by a Cedar Rapids police officer, according to the lawsuit.
Bush later modified the letter to clarify that Hotchkiss was allowed to drop off and pick up his son from school, according to the lawsuit.
The letter cited school district’s policy 1007 “Conduct on School District Premises” and Regulation 1002.2 “Visitors to District” and Iowa Code Chapter 723 and 716.7(2)(a), which outlines expectations for how school officials and staff should be treated. The letter said Hotchkiss could communicate with the board in writing and could communicate directly with the Hiawatha Elementary School principal as a parent.
Hotchkiss argues the policies cited in the letter are general policies about conduct by parents and community members while on district property.
According to the suit, the policies have a general requirement for visitors to “conduct themselves with respect and consideration for the rights of others” and specifically prohibits the possession of weapons, alcohol and tobacco on district property.
In the lawsuit, Hotchkiss asks for a jury trial. He also asks the court to rule that banning him from school board meetings is illegal and cannot be enforced.
The lawsuit seeks to have the district penalized for each violation — board meetings where Hotchkiss was banned — paying him between $1,000 and $1,200 for each known violation and between $100 to $500 for any other violations, in addition to court costs and attorney fees, and an injunction against further violations of the Iowa Open Meetings Act.
Hotchkiss spoke for over 30 minutes during a school board meeting Dec. 13, 2021, pleading for a mask mandate to be removed, threatening a lawsuit and asking for school board members’ resignations.
A group of parents yielded their five-minute apiece public comment period to Hotchkiss. Speakers are no longer allowed to yield their time to other speakers who signed up for public comment, Cedar Rapids school board President David Tominsky says at each meeting.
But at no time during this meeting did any board member or district employee indicate that the practice of one speaker yielding time to another was not permitted, according to the lawsuit.
After public comment was over, the Dec. 13, 2021, meeting was disrupted when protesters shouted “take a vote,” and “we will not back down.” At the time, Tominsky called for a 10-minute recess for the “disruption to cease.”
The public, by Iowa law, is allowed to speak only during designated public comment periods at board meetings.
This was the third time the school board had been forced to take a recess because of people protesting the mask mandate in the fall of 2021.
The lawsuit, filed in Linn County District Court, also names new Cedar Rapids schools Superintendent Tawana Grover, school board members Jennifer Borcherding, Cindy Garlock, Nancy Humbles, Dexter Merschbrock, Jennifer Neumann, Marcy Roundtree and David Tominsky, and Russ Bush, husband to Noreen Bush.
Hotchkiss’ lawyer is Alan Ostergren, who also sued the Linn-Mar Community School District last fall over its transgender policy, representing the Parents Defending Education organization.
Ostergren also represented Marion resident Amanda Pierce Snyder who sued Linn-Mar schools after she was banned from Linn-Mar School board meetings for 12 months because she disrupted an August 2022 meeting.
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