CENTERVILLE — The Centerville Community School District is refusing to release additional information regarding a school counselor they allowed to resign this month, eight days after a district investigator recommended disciplinary action for claims of sexual harassment of a female student.

Ryan Hodges, a former high school guidance counselor and head baseball coach, officially resigned from the district on Feb. 13.

In Iowa Code 22.7(11)(a)(5), resignations in lieu of termination require the government body to explain the reasons and rationale to the public. However, Centerville Schools superintendent Mark Taylor has declined to provide this information, stating that Hodges’ resignation is being considered as voluntary.

“The reasons and rationale will not be produced as it was a voluntary resignation at the time received and is not considered a resignation in lieu of termination,” Taylor wrote via email.

A 2018 advisory opinion from the Iowa Public Information Board, an independent government agency that oversees compliance with the state’s open records and open meetings laws, states that reasons and rationale must contain specifics.

“In order to meet the new requirement in 22.7(11)(a)(5), government bodies must say which law, rule, or policy, if any, they believe the employee violated and provide at least one sentence about the behavior or incident that triggered the action. The explanation should include details, such as the date(s) of alleged behavior, location, and how it was discovered,” the opinion says.

Documents reported by the Ottumwa Courier and other local media show two district investigators determined that complaints of sexual abuse and harassment were founded against Hodges and aligned with several stages of grooming, who himself as a guidance counselor was appointed an investigator of student abuse claims for the district.

A resignation agreement entered into by Hodges and district officials specifies that both sides agree not to sue each other. It contained a provision that the district would only release public information regarding Hodges’ employment as required by law.

District officials have released only minimal information since December, when they issued a statement following press inquiries. A statement released by Taylor on Dec. 1 said two employees were under investigation for two separate incidents, but to this date has never said which allegations applied to whom. One of the employees has since returned to work, while Hodges later resigned. The district provided the names of the two employees who were placed on paid administrative leave only when asked by the press.

The district’s silence has continued since confidential reports examining Hodges’ behavior surfaced publicly. Taylor told the Courier that the district considered the matter closed and would not be commenting further.

“The district will not be commenting further or verifying the legitimacy of any alleged reports or information being circulated about this matter as the District is following not only state and federal laws on confidentiality, but is respecting the privacy rights of all parties involved,” Taylor wrote via email. “The focus of the District shall remain, as always, on the students it serves.”

Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, a nonprofit group that advocates for transparency in government, says the public should be frustrated by the secrecy that continues to surround Hodges’ departure from the district. This is, he says, not what most people think a voluntary resignation looks like.

“The people in the Centerville school district deserve to know what this investigation uncovered about this employee,” he says. “Were the allegations founded or not? If they were unfounded, why was he still on administrative leave? But if the allegations were founded, was the district prepared to end his employment? The public needs information, not more secrecy.”

The mother of one of the involved students criticized the district’s lack of transparency for refusing to make the investigative reports of Hodges’ public, saying the district has removed themselves from their responsibility to inform the public of Hodges’ “predatory behavior” by reaching a resignation agreement.

Emily Hawk is the associate editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. She can be reached at ehawk@ottumwacourier.com.

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