SIBLEY, Iowa -- A judge has denied a request to move a trial involving a lawsuit claiming Sibley-Ocheyedan Community School District allowed a teacher with a questionable background to remain in the district and have sexual contact with a student.
District Judge Carl Petersen ruled Wednesday that the attorney for the boy's mother failed to show that an unbiased jury could not be chosen from an Osceola County jury pool. The trial, set for April 14, 2020, will remain in Osceola County.
The attorney, Scott Wadding, of Des Moines, requested the change of venue in July, saying that it would be hard for the mother and her son to receive a fair trial because the Sibley-Ocheyedan school district is the only district in Osceola County, several community members publicly voiced support for former teacher and football coach Kyle Ewinger before his firing and the case has been widely reported by the media. Wadding also submitted affidavits of six Osceola County residents who said they and a majority of residents would be prejudiced to serve as jurors.
Petersen said in his ruling that there are three other school districts in the county with patrons who likely have no relationship to the Sibley-Ocheyedan district. Petersen also said media coverage of Ewinger's firing and the lawsuit was unbiased. Petersen found that the support for Ewinger didn't rise to a level that would show prejudice and that the opinions in the six affidavits do not amount to an accurate representation of the potential jury pool.
Some individual biases may be present among potential jurors, Petersen said, but lawyers will be able to remove them during questioning at jury selection.
The woman, referred to as C.A. in court documents to protect her and her son's identity, sued the school district in September 2017 for negligence and failing to maintain a safe environment for students. She alleges that administrators allowed Ewinger to continue teaching there and did not alert other districts that considered hiring him to his past actions.
The woman's son was found sleeping with Ewinger on an air mattress in a classroom in the early morning hours of Oct. 3, 2015. School officials later found a bottle of Viagra prescribed to Ewinger and personal lubricant in the classroom. Ewinger, who was the high school football coach and a middle school social studies teacher, was fired later that month.
Ewinger faces a felony criminal charge of second-degree sexual abuse in connection with the incident. The case is scheduled to go to trial next month in Osceola County District Court.
In addition to the Sibley-Ocheyedan district, the mother's lawsuit also names the Sioux City Community School District, Akron-Westfield Community School District and a school district in Mediapolis, Iowa.
Ewinger is alleged to have had inappropriate contact with children in each of those districts. The lawsuit claims that each district knew about his behavior but did not disclose any information about it to other districts that later considered hiring him.
Ewinger served as head football coach at Sioux City's West High School in 2010-11 and was an elementary school teacher from 2009-12 at Riverside and Crescent Park elementary schools.
Ewinger was sentenced earlier this year to 55-85 years in prison in Nebraska after a jury in Omaha found him guilty of having sexual contact with a boy under the age of 12 in 2012-13.