Branden Durst files intent to sue two education agencies for $1.25 million

Former West Bonner County School District leader Branden Durst has filed a notice with the state that he intends to sue two education agencies for $1.25 million. 

In a tort claim filed with the Secretary of State’s office Wednesday, Durst alleged that the State Board of Education’s decision to deny him an emergency certificate to serve as West Bonner superintendent “resulted in his loss of employment.”

Durst is seeking compensatory damages as well as “punitive damages due to professional, emotional and reputational harm,” according to the tort claim. 

Idaho Education News obtained the tort claim against the State Board and Idaho Department of Education through a public records request. A tort claim is a precursor to a lawsuit. Government agencies have 90 days to respond before the complainant can file a lawsuit, per Idaho law.

Durst told Idaho Education News late Wednesday that he would not comment on pending litigation.

Durst named state superintendent Debbie Critchfield, State Board Executive Director Matthew Freeman, State Board President Linda Clark and West Bonner employee Tracy Rusho as involved or witness to the alleged injury. 

Denial of emergency certification spurred tort claim

The potential lawsuit stems from a September 2023 State Board letter rejecting Durst’s application for a superintendent’s emergency provisional certificate to lead West Bonner.

In June, the West Bonner school board selected Durst to lead the school district, even though he hadn’t completed all five requirements for a State Board superintendent’s endorsement. 

West Bonner trustees hired Durst with the understanding that he would obtain an emergency certification. But his application for an emergency endorsement prompted a legal review that determined the State Board doesn’t have the authority to waive the endorsement requirements for a superintendent. 

“Therefore, absent Mr. Durst meeting all five requirements … there is no pathway for Mr. Durst to obtain the legally required certification to serve as … superintendent,” wrote Matt Freeman, the State Board’s executive director.

The state’s denial to consider his application caused “adverse impacts to Mr. Durst, which ultimately resulted in his loss of employment as superintendent,” Durst’s tort claim said. 

Durst served five months as West Bonner’s leader, a period marked by turmoil on the local school board and acrimony among trustees and community. West Bonner voters subsequently held a recall election that ousted two trustees supporting Durst’s leadership tenure.

Following the Sept. 13 letter denying his emergency certification, Durst submitted his resignation to the board in September. Trustees accepted that resignation in October and appointed Joe Kren as interim superintendent.

Legal opinion says State Board couldn’t waive requirements

Records obtained by EdNews included an opinion from Attorney General Raúl Labrador’s office on the legal criteria for superintendent eligibility.

The opinion, from Associate Attorney General Jeffery Ventrella, said the State Board can’t waive its endorsement requirements and provide emergency certification to a superintendent. Idaho law only allows the agency to waive an endorsement for a teacher. 

“Even if a superintendent candidate could receive an emergency provisional certificate, nothing” in Idaho law “appears to authorize the board to waive the endorsement requirements,” Ventrella wrote.

The attorney general opinion was marked confidential, and the name of the requester was redacted. 

Ventrella also weighed in on whether the State Board even has the authority to enforce its endorsement rule. The endorsement requirements include specific certification, training and work experience, 

Idaho statute doesn’t explicitly give the State Board authority to promulgate rules requiring education and experience for superintendents, Ventrella wrote. But a court likely would rule the board has constitutional authority to enforce its endorsement rule.

“It is a constitutional body, vested with general supervision over Idaho’s public school system,” the opinion said.

In the May 2022 GOP primary, Durst ran for state superintendent of public instruction, finishing second to Critchfield.

Darren Svan and Ryan Suppe

Darren Svan and Ryan Suppe

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools.

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