DULUTH — The Duluth school board has agreed to pay $329,000 to settle a federal lawsuit brought by a former high school principal who had accused the district and its top leaders of retaliation and discrimination.
In the settlement approved after a closed meeting Tuesday night, the district does not admit to any wrongdoing.
"The board's decision was based on its desire to avoid the burden and expense of protracted litigation," Amy Mace, the district's lawyer said at the meeting. "By resolving the matter on mutually agreeable terms rather than preparing for trial, district administrators can continue to focus on the district's mission."
Tonya Sconiers, who was principal at Denfeld High School from 2012 to 2019, said in a statement that she was "happy to be moving forward."
Sconiers, the district's only Black principal, had been a vocal critic of its handling of equity issues, and she alleged her firing in 2019 was an attempt to "silence" her.
The district agreed to Sconiers' request that it "schedule a meeting with Thomas Newkirk of Implicit Bias Campus regarding implicit bias and the district's ongoing equity efforts," according to the settlement.
The lawsuit, which will be dismissed, named the district as well as former Superintendent Bill Gronseth and former Assistant Superintendent Jeff Horton.
"The agreement speaks for itself," Ben Kwan, Sconiers' attorney, said in an e-mail. Attorneys for Sconiers will receive nearly $100,000 of the settlement money.
Current and former district officials and lawyers for Sconiers spent more than seven hours at a virtual court settlement conference in April but came to no agreement, according to court documents. Tuesday's closed-session school board meeting took about 90 minutes and resulted in a unanimous vote. Sconiers and Gronseth had signed the settlement Monday.
"The district continues to believe that it acted appropriately, in the best interests of its students and staff, by the decisions it made that led to this case," said Mace, who added the district's insurance will help cover the cost of the settlement. "The district looks forward to moving on from this matter."
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496