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|City schools to appeal ruling in personnel file flap|
Monroe City Schools will appeal a 4th Judicial District Court decision that ordered the city school system to turn over a former employee's personnel file to The News-Star newspaper, city school board members decided Monday.
The city school board's decision came in response to Doug Lawrence's request to appeal a ruling by Judge Wendell Manning. Manning ruled last week the city school system must make available Cassandra Shelling's personnel file for the newspaper to review. Lawrence serves as the city school system's attorney.
Manning entered the fray when The News-Star filed a lawsuit against Monroe City Schools in 4th Judicial District Court for failing to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request to review Shelling's personnel file. Barbara Leader, a reporter for The News-Star, submitted the FOIA request to the school system.
Lawrence said he expected the school system's appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal to be completed and filed within a couple of weeks.
Also, Lawrence anticipates a speedy ruling from the appellate court because of the nature of the case.
"Typically it takes months," Lawrence said. "But this is known as a writ of mandamus."
According to Lawrence, such orders require all parties to move rapidly to comply because of the nature of the requests.
City school board president Vicky Dayton said she voted in favor of appealing Manning's ruling to ensure the school board was following the letter of the law.
"I firmly support all the Sunshine Laws and right to respect, but if there was an error made in this ruling, then the board is going to have to respect the decisions that were made," Dayton said before she cast her vote to appeal.
Following the vote, Dayton would not indicate what grounds the board felt it had for its appeal.
Also, Dayton refused to disclose which information in Cassandra Shelling's personnel files the board refused to turn over to The News-Star.
Cassandra Shelling is the daughter of city school board member Brenda Shelling. Cassandra Shelling once worked at Monroe City Schools as a teacher. She was fired in 2002 for conduct unbecoming.
Earlier this year, Brenda Shelling and school board member Rodney McFarland were two board members who voted against renewing Superintendent James Dupree's contract. His contract expired in September.
In August, Shelling and McFarland changed their minds about Dupree and voted to renew his contract.
Not long after Dupree's contract was renewed, reports surfaced in the media which said Cassandra Shelling would return to work at Monroe City Schools. She does not hold a position at Monroe City Schools at this time.
Last week, state Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek asked 4th Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones to investigate whether any illegal activities took place in Cassandra Shelling's possible return to Monroe City Schools in light of McFarland and Brenda Shelling changing their minds about renewing Dupree's contract. In his letter asking Jones to investigate, Pastorek also said Dupree and Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo could be involved.
Currently, the State Police is investing the matter at Jones' request.
Meanwhile, Lawrence and Dupree indicated the city school system would fully comply with a similar FOIA request concerning Shelling's personnel file that The Ouachita Citizen and KNOE TV-8 filed weeks ago. The city school system is expected to comply with the request by Nov. 15.
The public records request filed by The Ouachita Citizen and KNOE TV-8 encompassed all documents requested by The News-Star and additional documents not covered by The News-Star request.