The the first day of hearings to determine whether longtime Greenwich High School band teacher John Yoon will keep his job, drew a crowd.
In fact, the Board of Education meeting room, which holds just 70 people, filled to capacity 15 minutes before the 10:30 start of the hearing.
Latecomers were instructed to wait outside as members of GHS security monitored the numbers. Members of the press were allowed space at the back of the room, inside an area marked by blue painters tape. However, when the attorneys began to speak it was impossible to hear from the back and reporters crept forward and were allowed to lean against the wall.
Throughout the testimony of Dr. Winters, the sole witness to testify on Tuesday, as random spectators departed, security allowed people waiting outside to come and fill their seats.
Because so many people were turned away — presumably they were Yoon supporters judging by the prevalence of buttons indicating support of Mr. Yoon — a decision was made that Wednesday’s hearing would take place at Glenville School rather than at the Board of Ed.
Before Dr. Winters began his testimony, the attorney representing Greenwich Schools administration, Mr. Mooney, made a motion to have one witness, the parent of Student A, testify in private, preferably in the offices of Shipman & Goodwin LLP, in Stamford. He cited the FERPA a federal student privacy law, “FERPA,” which stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Mr. Yoon’s attorney, Daniel Young, argued that FERPA protects student records, not a student’s observations of a teacher.
The arbitrator M. Jackson Webber, who was an agreed choice by both sides, agreed with Mr. Young.
He did say, however, instructed witnesses in the room who had been invited to testify to leave. Several parents got up and left the room.
The hearing got going with Mr. Mooney saying that the facts would confirm that Mr. Yoon had behaved in a manner hostile and demeaning to students, and therefore validate the move to fire him.
At many moments in the hearing, reference was made to the “Last Chance Agreement” in 2014 signed by Mr. Yoon, which gave him a final chance to correct past behavior.
“Mr. Yoon was incapable of maintaining professional conduct,” Mooney said, adding that entitled the Superintendent to initiate termination proceedings. He said Yoon’s teaching colleagues were very upset at the prospect of the band teacher coming back to work, and enlisted support of the teachers union. He also said the Superintendent had exercised “great forbearance.”
“To be a good teacher you don’t have to be mean to anyone,” Mr. Mooney said, adding that Mr. Yoon had engaged in behavior toward students that was both hostile and demeaning and that he didn’t know how to treat students with dignity. He said the evidence would show that Mr. Yoon’s behavior had been both humiliating and abusive.
Mr. Daniel Young, described his client, Mr. Yoon, as a beloved teacher going on 23 years. He said that the two students (Student A and B) whose complaints were subsequent to the Last Chance Agreement, triggered the move to fire Yoon. Mr. Young said that Mr. Yoon had been suspended without GHS administration asking either Mr. Yoon or any students any questions about the charges.
Mr. Young argued that the fact that the administration waited for several weeks to tell Mr. Yoon about complaints about him, and in fact didn’t tell him until after he was suspended.
Mr. Winters was sworn in. “I was very committed to him being successful as the band director of Greenwich High school,” he said of Mr. Yoon, acknowledging that the band teacher had made a significant contribution to Greenwich High School.
“A major priority for me. Knowing his past record and wanting him to be very successful, I felt if I could coach him in various ways that he would maintain a successful program,” Winters said.
Mr. Young questioned Dr. Winters repeatedly about the timeline with regard to the “Last Chance Agreement” and emails between himself and Dr. Lichtenfeld, former head of human resources for Greenwich Schools, all of which, he argued show that the decision to fire Mr. Yoon, was made before any attempt to investigate.
Dr. Winters said Student B talked about being “screamed at” and described her experience with Mr. Yoon as humiliating and hurtful. (Winters said Student B declined to testify on Tuesday, and that she’d already given enough information.) It was pointed out that she was “scared” and uncomfortable testifying in front of Mr. Yoon.
With regard to the professional code of teachers, Dr. Winters said said he supported Dr. McKersie’s decision to fire Mr. Yoon and used the term “collective bullying” and “outcast” to describe how Mr. Yoon punished students in front of their peers, and even consulted the class as to whether Student A should leave the group. Specifically, Dr. Winters objected to how Mr. Yoon publicly demoted a student by handing his replacement the sheet music.
Repeatedly, Dr. Winters said Mr. Yoon’s behavior was in violation of his professional responsibilities because he should have met privately with the student first before administering a public punishment. He said that Mr. Yoon never even admitted that his actions of publicly demoting a student were inappropriate.
“I agree that teachers have the right to impose discipline… and there are many examples of teachers who keep order but don’t make students feel belittled and embarrassed,” Winters said.
Dr. Winters said there are roughly 180 kids in band at GHS and that there were just 40-45 in the program when he arrived. In response to Mr. Young’s questioning he said band is an elective at GHS, not required. He acknowledged that Mr. Yoon had received multiple awards for perfect attendance for six years.
Dr. Winters acknowledged that his own son had participated in band with Mr. Yoon. He said that he had chaperoned the band trip to Cuba last year. During the trip he said, “There were a couple of occasions when I coached him on how to act with the students,” Winters said.
Mr. Young asked Dr. Winters if he was familiar with Mr. Yoon’s “Breakfast Club” to which he replied that his understanding was it referred to “additional educational opportunities with Mr. Yoon,” which evoked laughter from the band parents in the audience.
“In Greece, did your son attend Breakfast Club one morning?” Young asked.
Dr. Winters nodded and said his son described it as, “Walking really fast up the Acropolis with Mr. Yoon.”
Mr. Young asked Dr. Winters to read a sentence aloud from the teachers union contract, article 24 “Personnel Files,” Section B.
“Any complaint directed toward a teacher and deemed serious enough to become a matter of formal record shall be promptly called to the teacher’s attention after receipt of any such a complaint,” Dr. Winters read.
Mr. Young asked Dr. Winters about an altercation between two colleagues, Mr. Yoon and Patrick Taylor. He asked if the complaint was a threat of physical violence. Dr. Winters said he didn’t recall, which set some spectators laughing. Mr. Mooney urged Mr. Webber not to let the audience set down a course “of hisses and boos.”
Young had Dr. Winters read aloud an email Mr. Yoon had sent complaining that during an altercation with Patrick Taylor about scheduling, Mr. Taylor had called him “an a$$##le.” Mr. Young read an email from Ben Walker to Dr. Winters complaining about his music department colleague, Mr. Taylor. He said that Mr. Taylor had also used the expletive toward Mr. Walker.
At that point, Mr. Mooney said he wanted to make sure Mr. Taylor was not present in the room, because he’d have to leave if planned to testify during the hearings. (He was not present.)
Dr. Winters did recall that Mr. Walker had complained that Mr. Taylor had been verbally abusive.
“Did you ever try to sit down with Mr. Taylor, Walker and Mr. Yoon about their relationship?” Mr. Young asked.
Mr. Winters said he turned the matter over to Human Resources.
Young asked Mr. Winters if Mr. Yoon ever struck anyone, and whether Mr. Taylor said he thought Mr. Yoon knew some martial arts. There were more chuckles from the spectators.
The arbitrator said that Mr. Taylor could address that when he takes the stand himself.
Mr. Young said that the result of that confrontation between colleagues, Mr. Yoon was suspended without pay for 10 days, required at his own cost to see a therapist and ultimately signed the Last Chance Agreement.
Dr. Winters disagreed, and pointed out that it was the “culmination” of incidents that resulted int he Last Chance Agreement.
Since that agreement, Dr. Winters said he observed Mr. Yoon teaching once, for 10 to 15 minutes in the fall, and was satisfied with what he saw.
Following the complaints of Student A and B in March 2015, Mr. Young said despite the contract requirement that the teacher be promptly notified of a complaint, that did not happen. Dr. Winters acknowledged that he did not notify Mr. Yoon for six weeks, until April 26.
Mr. Young asked the headmaster if Mr. Yoon was being punished for incidents prior to the Last Chance Agreement.
Dr. Winters insisted that, no, Mr. Yoon had humiliated Student A by publicly removing him as section leader in band and replacing him in front of his peers at 6:30am on a Monday following inappropriate behavior the previous Friday night. Mr. Young said his client denies that charge and asked Dr. Winters why he didn’t seek to have any student or Mr. Yoon corroborate the complaint.
There were analogies made to subbing a baseball player during a game, which Mr. Mooney objected to. Mr. Young switched to a football analogy.
Mr. Young said that the first chance Mr. Yoon had to tell his side of the story was after he’d already been suspended for three days.
Mr. Young brought up Student B’s “Senioritis,” suggesting that the second semester senior was demotivated when she alerted Mr. Walker and Mr. Yoon that she was not going to play in an end of year concert. She was informed there would be consequences, but she complained about the consequences anyway.
“We would still have proceeded (to terminate) even if Student B dropped the complaint,” Dr. Winters said. “We would have wanted to terminate based on Student A.”
Mr. Young read an email from Student B’s mother saying the family had donated $2,500 to the band program, hosted many events for band at their home, and complained in an email “they bit the hand that fed them.” He said Student B’s series of unexcused absences meant she might face consequences, even as a second semester senior.
Mr. Winters said student B’s mother’s point was strictly about Mr. Yoon’s humiliating mistreatment. Student B, barring Senioritis, a member of the wind ensemble, was a high-performing student, training to become an EMT, who had asked Mr. Yoon to write a recommendation for her for college. Mr. Young asked Dr. Winters if he knew that Student B frequently talked and used her phone during rehearsal.
“The student told me she was admonished for speaking during class and was sent to the corner of the room,” Winters said, adding that he thought that punishment was unprofessional based on the way the student described it to him. “I do no think that is treating the student with respect.”
Mr. Webber called the hearing to a close at about 4:30pm and it will continue Tuesday morning at 10:30am at Glenville School.