Of the 6 public hearings to determine whether 23-year Greenwich High School band teacher John Yoon will keep his job, a decision was made to add two additional hearings beyond Sept. 9.
If needed, there will be hearings on September 21 and 28.
While Monday, day 4, moved along at a fast pace, mostly because “Student P” spoke rapid-fire for about 3 hours, Tuesday slowed down a bit.
That said, there were several moments when members of the audience, mostly supporters of Mr. Yoon wearing buttons to reflect their support, gasped or laughed during the Superintendent’s day long testimony.
Mr. Yoon’s attorney Daniel Young asked Dr. McKersie when the decision was made to terminate Mr. Yoon.
Dr. McKersie said he took 5 or 6 days to make the determination after a May 6 private hearing with GHS Headmaster Dr. Winters, the then Human Resources director Dr. Lichtenfeld, Mr. Yoon, union representatives, and attorneys.
He said he had many conversations with Dr. Lichtenfeld and worked closely with GHS administrators as a draft of the “Statement of Reasons” took shape.
He said he never met with Students A or B. Nor did he meet observe Mr. Yoon teaching, aside from one brief walk-through. Also, he did he not meet with teachers or guidance counselors. Relying on Dr. Lichtenfeld and Dr. Winters to inform his decision, he said, “I pressed them and we talked intensively.” He said Jason Goldstein, a GHS administrator, also provided detailed information. Asked if his administrators saw any of the unprofessional conduct in real-time that justified the termination, Dr. McKersie said, “They looked at it closely with regards to the parent complaints.”
The complaints that triggered a violation of the “Last Chance” agreement were from the Parent of Student A and Parent of Student B. The complaints were made in February and March.
On May 18 a letter was sent to the Connecticut Education Association (the state teachers’ union) informing them of the Superintendent’s decision.
Mr. Young pointed out that nowhere in the Last Chance agreement was there reference to the Professional Code of Conduct that McKersie, Mr. Lichtenfeld and Dr. Winters have all referred to during the public hearings. The Superintendent said the “Last Chance,” referred to “any unprofessional conduct.”
During a long discussion about what constitutes emotional abuse, Mr. Young referred to Dr. McKersie’s testimony the previous day that “dragging a student down to tears” was emotional abuse. Mr. Young asked whether a student who cried after being given a fair critique or grade would constitute emotional abuse.
“I would have to review the situation,” McKersie said.
When Young asked McKersie if a coach sent a pitcher out to the mound in a baseball game and then the pitcher cried, might that reflect a coach’s emotional abuse. Dr. McKersie said he would have to investigate the interactions between the student and the coach over time.
Dr. McKersie acknowledged that even when a student is treated with dignity and respect, a student may still have an emotional response, and that parents don’t always have all the facts when they make a complaint.
But Dr. McKersie never wavered in his insistence that Mr. Yoon’s conduct relating to complaints of Student A and B parents was unprofessional.
Of those complaints, Superintendent said he relied on the investigation of his administrators. In July Student A’s father testified that his son’s grade had plummeted to a C- because of absences and tardies and he claimed not to know Mr. Yoon’s policy about making up lost time. The Superintendent didn’t look at the discipline records of Student A or B himself. Rather, he said, the administrators reported back some attendance issues and tardies, but, McKersie said, “That was part of the conversations with student A’s father about managing his scheduling demands.”
Nor did the Superintendent review the 28 letters of support in Mr. Yoon’s personnel file. He said his specific focus was on the number of disciple incidents in the file going back to 1997.
Dr. McKersie referred multiple times to emotional abuse, and emotional response on the part of students, and putting students at emotional risk. For example, he said when a student wrote a “broadcast email disparaging the conduct of Student A, and sent it to all members of the Board of Education,” he was not pleased and asked the girl to present it privately in a hard copy because of the danger of it entering the public sphere, possibly on social media and the potential damage to Student A.
Following Dr. McKersie’s reference on Monday to a potential concern that the public disparaging of Student A might have a chilling effect on other students coming forward with complaints about teachers, Mr. Young suggested that the treatment the previous day of Student P, who at one point appeared shaken during his testimony and returned to the stand with a box of tissues after a five minute, might discourage students from testifying.
Dr. McKersie, who said he knew Student A based on one brief conversation and the experience of presenting him an award, indicated he did not doubt the truthfulness of his complaint. The Superintendent said he actually knew Student P “better” and had no sense of doubting his truthfulness. He agreed Student P was in a better position to testify about Student A’s behavior than his administrators as he was in class with him all year and shared several activities with him.
Yet, on Monday Dr. McKersie described Student P’s observations at “not credible.”
Dr. McKersie said according to Student A’s father, Mr. Yoon was “killing his son’s love of music.” Mr Young asked the Superintendent if he knew when that complaint was made that Student A had just signed up for Wind Ensemble
Mr. Young spent some time poking holes Dr. McKersie’s “Statement of Reasons” for termination, going through about half of the 28 bullet point references to unprofessional conduct.
Arguing that some allegations in Mr. Yoon’s personnel file weren’t truthful, he referred to a parent complaint of unreasonable punishment for missing a concert in 1999. He said it was not truthful because the consequence for missing a concert was spelled out in the Band Handbook all students and their parents sign.
“This parent did not want the student to make up the missed concert. How is that an example of unprofessional conduct?” Young asked the Superintendent.
The Statement of Reasons references to a 1997 memo that said that an administrator had spoken to Mr. Yoon and another teacher about verbal abuse. Mr. Young pointed out the union rule that something critical in a teacher’s personnel file must be signed by the teacher. The memo did not say if any conclusions were reached.
The Reasons also referred to two parent complaints in 2001 that Mr. Young pointed out that one parent whose complaint was double counted, giving the impression, possibly intentional on the part of the Superintendent, that more parents had complained than actually had.
Of an allegation in 2001 by a teacher that Mr. Yoon was verbally abusive and she felt physically threatened, Mr. Young asked, “Was it determined that he was verbally abusive and physical threatening?”
“I can’t answer that,” Dr. McKersie replied.
In 2003 the Reasons said Mr. Yoon had used profanity in front of students. Mr. Young acknowledged the band teacher had said to another teacher, “What the (expletive) is your problem?” He asked Dr. McKersie if he was aware that comment was in response to the other teacher saying “I am going to kick your ass.” The Superintendent said, no, he was not aware of that.
Of Dr. McKersie’s reference to complaints from students, parents and staff in 2005-2006 of Mr. Yoon’s hostile behavior, Mr. Young pointed out that, in one document, the Superintendent had changed the word from “few” to “multiple” claiming that the multiple complaints included complaints by staff members. In fact, the document doesn not indicate any complaints by staff members, and it reports that there was one “incident” between John and another teacher, and “based on feedback from students who were present it became clear that John did not initiate that conflict.”
Mr. Young said in 2006, a written reprimand for “physically restraining” a student from leaving a discussion was misleading. He said Mr. Yoon had admitted tugging on the student’s sleeve.
In 2007 Mr. Yoon’s behavior was deemed unprofessional when he violated the district’s purchasing regulations. Mr. Young asked if that was fair if the violation was done unintentionally. The Superintendent replied, “I don’t know.”
Mr. Young took issue with several other examples of unprofessional behavior including a complaint from a student some time around 2007 who described Mr. Yoon as verbally abusive and a racist, calling a student a “mutt.” Young pointed out Mr. Yoon never got a copy of that letter and that it did not have a date on it. Dr. McKersie said he didn’t know if Mr. Yoon had been given the letter and had a chance to sign it. “Before you repeated that allegation, wouldn’t you want to validate it?” Young asked.
Of an accusation in 2008 that Mr. Yoon threatened to “hurt” a student, Mr. Young said the “hurt” reference was to a grade, and that the same day the student came in to make up a missed class so as not to have her grade suffer.
“You knew this letter was going to the newspaper without the context,” Mr. Young asked Dr. McKersie, specifically referring to the accusation of physical abuse and the shirt-tugging incident in 2006. “There is no other evidence of physical issues,” Young said to McKersie.
Mr.Young read aloud an email from Dr. Lichtenfeld to Dr. Winters: “I think it is dangerous to link violent and dangerous. The statement is terribly misleading if not inflammatory. There is no anecdotal evidence as far as our knowledge.”
In 2008-2009, Young pointed out there was a parent allegation of verbal reprimands of a child in front of other students. The document stated that the administration actually did an investigation about, and the document in the file says that the “investigation did not corroborate the allegation,” but the Superintendent nonetheless published the complaint as an example of unprofessional conduct, claiming it had occurred.
Asked about any conversations with Dr. Lichtenfeld about his son having left Mr. Yoon’s band years earlier, the Superintendent said the human resources director had offered his own son’s experience as “an example of his support of Mr. Yoon,” and that it did not color his opinion of the band teacher.
Mr. Young suggested the Superintendent had solicited additional information against Mr. Yoon from a former marching band director after the Last Chance Agreement.
Mr. Young asked multiple questions about the lag in time between the May 6 closed hearing, the final decision to terminate and the issue of the formal Statement of Reasons for termination, which wasn’t sent to Mr. Yoon until June 12, the same day the Superintendent and his attorney furnished Greenwich Time reporter Paul Schott with Mr. Yoon’s discipline record in response to a Freedom of Information request.
Dr. McKersie said because he didn’t want the “Reasons” sent to Greenwich Time before Mr. Yoon received them, a request was made for Mr. Schott to wait to publish his article. He did not. Instead he published two front page articles, one on June 15 about the discipline history, and the second, on June 16, about the termination.
Mr. Young read aloud an email reply from Dr. McKersie to Dr. Lichtenfeld on June 13 referring to two potential headline stories in Greenwich Time. “I’m looking at the positive. They will be two big stories, both the history and now,” McKersie wrote.
Mr. Young again asked Dr. McKersie when he decided to terminate Mr. Yoon, reading aloud a May 13 email from Dr. Winters about arranging coverage for Mr. Yoon at GHS. “His absences have become increasingly public and it is clear that we know he won’t be coming back this year…” Dr. Winters wrote.
Noting that Student A’s complaint was on March 12, Dr. McKersie acknowledged there was “a lag” in time between complaint and action that he regretted.
McKersie insisted it was unprofessional for Mr. Yoon not to give the boy notice that his section leader post would be taken away as a consequence of misbehavior. In this case it was on a Friday when Student A made the entire band late for a trip to a festival in Darien, and later, had his dad ask if he could leave early despite a requirement to remain present until all the bands perform.
Dr. McKersie said repeatedly it was unprofessional for Mr. Yoon not to point out to the student that misbehavior put his section leader position at risk, and instead having Student A learn he was replaced as section leader on Monday morning when he saw someone else with the music.
“You didn’t know Mr. Yoon spoke to the student Friday night,” Young asked Dr. McKersie. “No,” he replied, but he insisted that waiting and surprising Student A by taking away the section leader job, in front of peers, was unprofessional.
Just before the 4:30pm close of the hearing, attorney Mooney asked the Superintendent questions about a student’s broadcast email to the Board of Education, which he described as an “attack” on Student A, including the boy’s alleged insubordination, disrespect and example of him playing one note for an entire song.
“If it was true,” Dr. McKersie said, “He (Yoon) should have engaged with the administration and parents and do it promptly. Speed matters,” he said to a round of chuckles in the audience.
Mr. Young asked Dr. McKersie if he will give the band teacher his job back if the arbitrator determined Mr. Yoon did not engage in unprofessional conduct, he replied that he might still recommend to the Board of Education for termination.
The next hearing is set for Sept. 9.