The Board of Education met at Julian Curtiss School on Wednesday to discuss the 120 page recommendation of the hearing officer M. Jackson Webber, who after 9 full days of public hearings that spanned the summer and fall, recommended the termination of John Yoon.
The small gymnasium filled up well before the 7pm meeting start and some attendees were surprised to see uniformed Greenwich Police officers present. They were also surprised to see about 50 chairs marked ‘reserved’ for Greenwich Schools administration.
Seated beside BOE chair Laura Erickson were Town attorneys Attorney Wayne Fox and Abby Wadler. Facing them were Mr. Yoon and his attorney Dan Young at one table. The superintendent William McKersie sat with his attorney Thomas Mooney at their own table.
At the outset of the meeting attendees were warned in no uncertain terms that any outpouring of emotion would not be tolerated, and risked closing the meeting to the public. About 200 seats were occupied, with standing room only by 7:00pm. As during the November Board of Education meeting at North Street School, and, again, supporters of John Yoon wore red and buttons that read Bring Back John Yoon.
There was much discussion of the Last Chance Agreement the band teacher signed in 2014, and whether Mr. Yoon had entered it wittingly, as he did have the counsel of two union representatives, but not a proper attorney. On the other hand, there was discussion about ambiguity in the wording of the Last Chance Agreement.
Mrs. Erickson said she believed Mr. Yoon entered the Last Chance Agreement knowingly, and had representation.
Mr. Bernstein that whether the Board liked it or not the Last Chance Agreement stood, and that what was in question were the two parent complaints. He said he was troubled that he’d heard Mr. Yoon had not sought assistance despite having ongoing trouble with Student A. “Mr. Yoon did nothing to avoid the situations here. I’m troubled by that,” he said.
Mrs. Rabin said she was bothered that there was a lack of investigation after the complaints of Student A’s father. “There was clearly an issue and I would have loved to see a team approach with the administration, parents and teacher, to see what was the root cause of what was going on, rather than the presumption of bullying.”
“As I read about student A, a student who was floundering, drowning and needing help, and instead of finding ways to work with him, I saw behavior that was continuing to add pressure,” said Mrs. Appelbaum, agreeing with Mr. Bernstein. “I know there’s been concern about coddling and not holding high standards,” she said. “However, when a student is struggling, I am concerned that there would not be an effort to help that student find their way out of that situation.”
The tide seemed to turn in favor of Mr. Yoon when Barbara O’Neill talked about how the band director was known for giving students adequate chance to make up their grades.
“I read in the document that any student who had a poor grade had the opportunity to make up any work, …and by showing up and working hard got an A. This student A chose not to do that and chose to be late when others left the science class. Again there’s lots of teachable moments. But band is different than a math class. When you’re all together it takes the whole group to function. You don’t have time to call Johnny over and say, ‘You need to do this better.’ You have everybody else waiting to perform.”
Mrs. O’Neill, a 35 year veteran teacher herself, evoked laughter from the audience when she said that for a teacher never to embarrass or make an adolescent cry is impossible. “I’m disturbed that we’re here at all. If good common sense procedures were followed, Mr. Yoon would have gotten the guidance he needed all along,” she said, adding that the Last Chance Agreement never should have existed had procedures been followed.
“It should have been a given that he get the proper supervision and help – He did go out on his own and get some. But that’s the failing,” O’Neill continued. “When someone fails, it’s a two way street. In a situation like this there should have been that support for him as he went along. Or else they should have gotten rid of him if his behavior was so bad. So they tolerated it to a point. Why? Because they didn’t document it? Because they didn’t really have the evidence?”
“I believe that entering the school year, he knew he wasn’t operating with a green light,” Mrs. Erickson said. “He knew he was operating with a yellow light, which means proceed with caution.” She said she was also troubled that on March 19, Student A’s father felt his son was threatened enough to tell him to avoid being alone with Mr. Yoon. “That’s not about grades. That’s about a parent feeling the need to protect their child.”
Dr. Francis said there were many facts from Mr. Mooney and Mr. Young that contradicted each other. She said there were some points that contradicted the hearing officer’s conclusion, but that she did not think Mr. Yoon’s behavior crossed the line into demeaning, bullying or antagonizing.
Dr. Francis said she was troubled to learn of Mr. Lichtenfeld’s assertion that the complaint wasn’t brought to Mr. Yoon’s attention because it wasn’t deemed serious enough.
Mr. Sherr said he held former Human Resources director Dr. Lichtenfeld in very high esteem, but that he had no training in human resources.
Lauren Rabin said she was bothered by the lack of investigation of the parent complaints. She said that she had terminated employees in the corporate world. “The people I have fired don’t have tenure. They don’t have a union, and I’ve had to work extra extra careful to make sure every i was dotted every t crossed and I don’t see that happening based on the facts that were represented.”
“I agree with that. I fail to see where Mr. Yoon had sufficient guidance. If these parents were going to complain, there should have been a conference to find out whether the accusations were true,” O’Neill said.
At the end of the meeting, the board had two resolutions to consider. The first one – whether to discipline Mr. Yoon, precluded the second, which was whether to terminate him.
After the motion was tweaked a bit, the vote was to discipline Mr. Yoon. Specifically the board agreed the discipline would be limited to the suspension with pay that he had already endured (April 29 through Dec. 9), essentially, time served.
“I think what Mr. Yoon has been through has been enough,” said Barbara O’Neill. “I think he’s been disciplined – publicly flogged – should be limited. ”
Mr. Sherr asked whether Mr. Yoon’s suspension would go on his permanent record. Mr. Fox said that it had already occurred, and to the best of his knowledge was already on his record.
“I’d like to see counseling for all parties involved,” said Mrs. Rabin. There’s a lot of healing that needs to occur after tonight and I don’t know if the parties are capable of doing it on their own without some additional help.”
A moment that can only be described as bizarre occurred around 7:30pm when a protester in a fedora arrived with a large handmade sign that read, ‘Do you want your students to be pamperd (sic) by baby school type teachers or by professional teachers that require the respect of the students?’
At the end of the day, the Board of Education voted on a motion to discipline Mr. Yoon. Essentially, the discipline they meted out was time served. Mr. Yoon has been on paid administrative leave from April 29 until Dec. 9 (the night of the meeting).
Following the vote and motion to adjourn the meeting, supporters dressed in red made their way toward Mr. Yoon to congratulate and embrace him. Across the room, the Superintendent, GHS Headmaster, attorney Thomas Mooney, and several administrators, mostly dressed in black, chatted quietly in a tight knot.