Southern Door Athletics Director Suing School District

A state Hall of Fame football coach and current Southern Door athletics and activities director has filed a petition in Door County Circuit Court to prevent a local family and student from opening his personnel file.

On April 27, Mark Jonas filed an injunction request and a restraining order, “asking for an injunction against the Southern Door County School District from releasing any, or all, of my personnel file under a public records law request, Wis. Stat. 19.31-19.38.”

The document indicated Jonas “would like to commence an action seeking a court order to restrain the district from disclosing the requested records.”

When contacted last week by the Peninsula Pulse, Jonas said he had no comment on his legal petition, other than noting that he remains on staff and that he had not retained an attorney. 

Southern Door’s school board has been holding closed-door sessions at the end of most of its meetings for the past few months to discuss personnel. In its legal descriptions of reasons for entering closed sessions, the board has not clearly disclosed the topics of discussion. 

Superintendent Chris Peterson has been on administrative leave since late March, and the district has not disclosed the reason for his leave.

The attorney representing Southern Door – Tony Renning of the Oshkosh-based firm of Renning, Lewis & Lacy – told the Peninsula Pulse that the matter involving Jonas is not related to the matter that led to the superintendent being placed on leave. He said he could not comment on the reason for Peterson’s leave, and as soon as the district could share that information, it would.

In Jonas’ case, his filing came in response to a notification to him from the district.

“The district received a public-records request for a copy of [Jonas’ personnel file],” Renning said. “The district conducted the balancing test and determined that the public’s interest in disclosing the record outweighed the private interest for nondisclosure.”

Jonas then filed his documents.

Although Jonas did not comment on his reason for the injunction, his petition asks the circuit court to restrain the district from “the right to disperse my personnel file per a public-records request made by a parent.”

“The parents in question want information regarding an investigation conducted by the interim superintendent, Jason Melotte; and the high school principal, Steve Bousley,” Jonas’ petition states. He said if the district provided his personnel records to the parents, “This action, if allowed, opens every public-school employee up to the scrutiny of a disgruntled parent which is for the sole purpose of intimidation of a teacher.”

On May 10, Jonas requested that the parents who want to see his personnel file “explain to the court why their interest in obtaining my personnel file supersedes my interest as an athletic director to do my job in a professional manner. It is my belief that the [family members] are trying to impede my capabilities to do my job based on my professional decision to exclude their son from a private meeting involving other students.” 

Hired in February 2022, almost a year after Peterson was hired, Jonas was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in April 2022. He helped to lead the Southern Door Eagles to an 11-1 record during the fall of 2022 and has a career record of 178 wins and 106 losses. 

After executive session May 8, the Southern Door School Board voted to delay a decision on Jonas’ administrative contract for 2023-24. 

The same night, the board unanimously approved hiring Jason Melotte, who has been serving as district business manager, to serve as administrator of general operations for the district. The board also approved an addendum to Melotte’s contract to compensate him for extra duties during the superintendent’s leave.

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