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Principal in fruit costume asked female student to ‘hold his banana,’ Iowa complaint alleges

Todd Dirth, principal of Fort Madison Middle School in Iowa, reportedly made an inappropriate comment to a female student at an assembly last year while he was dressed as a banana, The Des Moines Register reports.
Todd Dirth, principal of Fort Madison Middle School in Iowa, reportedly made an inappropriate comment to a female student at an assembly last year while he was dressed as a banana, The Des Moines Register reports. Facebook/Fort Madison Middle School

Todd Dirth, the principal of Fort Madison Middle School in Iowa, reportedly made an inappropriate comment to a female student at an assembly in December while he was wearing a banana costume, The Des Moines Register reported this week.

According to the newspaper, Dirth was shooting free throws in the costume, part of which stuck out between his legs, when he asked the student to “hold his banana.”

The Register cited a records complaint filed in June with the Iowa Public Information Board by Charles Vandenberg, owner of the Pen City Current, an online news site that covers Fort Madison news. The complaint sought a video of the incident reportedly shot by someone at the assembly.

The board denied Vandenberg’s request to release the video, which allegedly shows Dirth “dressed as a banana and engaged with students in front of the student body at an assembly,” according to The Hawk Eye in Burlington, Iowa.

Vandenberg first asked the school district to release the video on Dec. 13, the day of the assembly. He told the Hawk Eye that the district denied the request in a February email, saying the video pertained to personal information in personnel records.

“The district cannot expect or have any expectation of privacy during an assembly in front of 600 people,” Vandenberg told the Hawk Eye.

While Vandenberg’s website has not identified Dirth as the school employee involved in the incident, The Register named him in a story published Wednesday in which it also reported that the school district has investigated the incident and disciplined Dirth.

Local media report this is not the first time Dirth has been in the news because of interactions he’s had with students.

Five parents and a former student lodged complaints against him in front of the Fort Madison Community School Board last month, according to the Daily Democrat in Fort Madison.

When one dad mentioned Dirth by name, board president Tim Wondra asked him not to use names during his comments, the Daily Democrat reported.

That dad, Brian Wright, had first talked to the board in May alleging that Dirth left a bruise on his daughter’s arm because she didn’t say “good morning to him.,” according the Daily Democrat.

Another parent, Heather Wellman, told the board her “son was struck in the back of his head by the principal from the middle school.”

Former student Seth Wright told the board about one day in eighth grade when Dirth “plucked” out the paper clip he had clipped to his lip after he accidentally swallowed the ball-and-stud he’d been wearing, the Daily Democrat reported.

One mom, Melissa Boyd, accused Dirth of restraining her son, then undiagnosed with autism, with a chair in a 2012 incident.

“He had taken a chair at some point and held my son such as a lion tamer does up against the wall,” Boyd told the school board, the Daily Democrat reported.

After the June meeting school superintendent Erin Slater issued a statement that the complaints had been investigated and addressed.

“The fact that the parents do not agree with what the District has done does not mean that the District took no action or did not appropriately address the situation,” Slater said in her statement, which offered no details about what the district had done.

The Register reported that an attorney for the school district, Emily Ellingson, told a state board earlier this month that an employee had been disciplined as part of an investigation of the banana incident.

The Des Moines newspaper reported that Dirth hung up the phone when it contacted him about the banana costume. The Hawk Eye was also unsuccessful in getting him to comment on Thursday.

Slater told the Burlington newspaper the district does not comment on personnel matters.

Just like many movements for equal rights in America, the path for women to seek recourse from sexual harassment has been through the courts. But grassroots activism in the 1970s opened the space for a nationwide conversation, and the Civil Rights

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