Day 7 of public hearings at Havemeyer to determine whether longtime GHS band teacher will have his job restored started with a clarification on codes of conduct.
Mr. Yoon’s attorney Mr. Young admonished Attorney Mooney for his references to the Code of Professional Responsibility for Educators, which he said is no longer in use.
Young pointed out that years ago the Attorney General’s office issued instructions to longer rely on it. Instead, the Code of Professional Responsibility for Teachers, which does not contain a provision for disciplining “with compassion,” is the relevant code.
Mr. Yoon again took the witness stand. Mr. Young’s first question was after the altercation with colleague Patrick Taylor, which involved both parties using expletives, whether GHS Headmaster Dr. Winters had given an indication that he had lost confidence in him? “No,” Mr. Yoon replied. In fact, he said the headmaster agreed to let him lead 200 band members and chaperones on the Cuba trip.
Still, he said he changed his behavior after the Last Chance Agreement in spring 2014.
“I sought out a psychologist’s help and met with him regularly and worked on issues they suggested. I felt like I was very successful in mending fences and building bridges,” Mr. Yoon said, adding that there were no coaching sessions with Dr. Winters.
Nor, Mr. Yoon said, were there department meetings for ten years. He said the department chair had written off the music department, saying, “‘You guys are all dysfunctional and beyond repair.'”
“When I returned after the ‘Last Chance” agreement, Mr. Taylor treated me as though I was invisible,” Mr. Yoon said. He said that even emails were directed to him through his assistant, Ben Walker, though that also changed after Mr. Goldstein was assigned to the department.
Sign up for the free Greenwich Free Press newsletter
Arrives daily at 6:05am. We’ll never sign you up without your permission.
Mr. Yoon described several conversations with teaching colleagues that were not so subtle hints of his his imminent ouster.
“I was at the Western Regionals in January 2015 and a colleague came to me to say that in a conversation they’d had with Mr. Taylor, he was about having difficulty terminating a tenured teacher,” Mr. Yoon recalled.
Also, he said a letter advising his longtime summer employer, Greenwich Parks & Rec, not to hire him had been sent anonymously.
For 16 years, Mr. Yoon has beenthe head of the Summer Music and Art camp held at CMS.
“Dr. Lichtenfeld said it was probably either Patrick Taylor or Barbara Freedman,” Yoon said, referring to music department colleagues at GHS.
On the topic of complaints from the parents of Student A and B in the winter, Mr. Yoon said he’d been suspended in April and heard nothing of the complaints until just before his pre-disciplinary hearing on April 28.
Mr. Yoon said that when the then Human Resources Director Dr. Lichtenfeld told him of the allegations, he responded by saying, “They were half truths, lies and fabrications. I gave them my side of the story and I was completely disregarded.”
Mr. Yoon said he was told to stay home and then received a message about a second disciplinary hearing on May 6.
At the second meeting, the Superintendent and his attorney, Mr. Mooney were present along with GHS administrator Jason Goldstein.
“In a threatening way, Mr. Mooney asked me, ‘Should I talk to the students?’ and I said, ‘Yes, please do.’ I said,‘They look great on paper but that’s not the whole story.’”
Also, Mr. Yoon said scenarios of bullying and harassment are supposed to be directed to the Dean of Student Life, but in his case, they were not. He said that Dr. Winters had estimated that one to three complaints about a teacher per year were not out of the ordinary.
As questions looped back to the behavior of Student A, who played trumped in both the wind and jazz ensembles, Mr. Yoon said the boy, a junior last year, was one of his best trumpet players but his attendance was poor. He said the boy missed 9 classes out of 16 in second quarter, and though he could have made up the absences, he didn’t bother to.
“When he was late, he was nonchalant, and took his time walking through the auditorium. It was disruptive,” Mr. Yoon recalled, adding that jazz ensemble is a graded class with Honors weight that meets in the evening.
Asked if Attorney Mooney’s suggestion that the reason Student A did not bring his trumped to rehearsal was that it was expensive, suggesting he was unfairly penalized in his grade, Mr. Yoon pointed out that the boy owned two trumpets and did not have to bring the expensive one.
Also, Mr. Yoon said the boy failed to turn in his practice cards, which are filled out on the honor system. He said the boy didn’t even bother to fake them. “Many students fake their practice cards,” Mr. Yoon said, which elicited chuckles from many of the band parents in the audience.
Ultimately, the tardies, absences and bringing the wrong instrument contributed to the boy getting a grade of a C-.
“His participation, effort, attendance and attitude impacted his grade,” Mr. Yoon said, adding that Student A but wanted his grade raised. “I said if he made changes permanently, I would, for the first time in my career, change a grade retroactively. He cut the very next rehearsal.”
Mr. Young asked Mr. Yoon if he agreed with Dr. Lichtenfeld’s characterization of him as someone who finds it hard to accept other perspectives. Mr. Yoon disagreed, saying he brought in clinicians at least once a year, sometimes three to four times a year, to get feedback on the jazz ensemble.
“We were always looking for input.”
Mr. Yoon said the clinician, without prompting, immediately noticed Student A’s posture and volume. “It was organic. It was unprepped,” he said of the observation.
Mr. Yoon recalled Student A’s dad surprising him by saying his son suffered from asthma, and was concerned that it was cherry blossom season in Washington DC, the destination for a band trip. He said the father was also concerned about his son missing a day of school to travel with the band to DC.
Mr. Yoon gave Student A’s father permission to drive his son to DC, which also meant he was able avoid missing a day in school, though Mr. Yoon said other students regretted missing a day of school. Despite having suggested to Student A’s father to carpool, Student A’s dad and his son traveled separately.
“It became clear he was laboring under a heavy load of classes and he maybe believed he could skirt by the band program with little or no effort,” Mr. Yoon said of Student A, adding that he would give the boy corrections over and over, but changes in behavior were always short-lived.
Asked why he chose not to kick Student A out of band entirely, he said that would have been the easy way out. Nor did he hold a meeting of the entire ensemble to discuss whether the boy should be thrown out, as has been alleged during the hearings.
Mr. Young reminded Mr. Yoon that this summer, during his testimony, Student A’s dad said grades didn’t matter.
“That’s not truthful,” Mr. Yoon said. “It was the main concern during our conversation and the dad felt a C- would impact his son’s chances at most competitive colleges.”
Mr. Yoon said Student A most certainly would have known about his penalties for tardies. “To be on time is to be late. To be early is to be on time,” Mr. Yoon, of what he says so often that his students refer to the expression as a “Yoonism.”
Mr. Yoon said his students were very aware of his policies, so the Monday morning removal of Student A’s post as section leader couldn’t have have come as a surprise.
“The Jazz Lab band had only 8 minutes to get off the bus and onto the stage,” he said, describing the consequence of Student A making the bus late to Darien.
Of leaving the festival early, Mr. Yoon said that too was something Student A would have known he frowned on. “It’s a respect issue. We usually win those festivals. We could show up in theory and just perform and leave. But it is about supporting one another, and to share.”
Of the conversation in which Mr. Yoon told the boy that making the bus late was a “selfish” act, he said the administration took the parent complaint and construed it as him calling the boy selfish in front of his peers.
In fact, Mr. Yoon said his assistant Ben Walker was also at the festival because his son was there with the band from Joel Barlow High School.
“He told me I’d given him (Student A) too many chances and had been spending too much time on him and that I should kick him out,” Mr. Yoon recalled.
That Friday night Mr. Yoon warned Student A, whose dad was taking him home early to do homework, that “there was going to be a change.”
Mr. Yoon said Student A did not question the section leader change on Monday. “He didn’t look surprised,” he said. “Making the bus late was the last straw.”
Asked what being a section leader meant, Mr. Yoon explained it is a responsibility, not an authority. He said it means being able to lead your peers through music for about 20 minutes while the teacher is working with another group.
The hearing officer asked Mr. Yoon why, as a consequence of making the bus late the previous Friday, had he taken away Student A’s section leader post durng wind ensemble, rather than jazz ensemble. Mr. Yoon replied that the students are the same in both groups.
Of the moment Student A’s father interrupted his son having a conversation with Mr. Yoon after rehearsal in his office, he denied having been ‘screaming,’ and said the parent brought up his son’s grade with a nod to its impact on his son getting into “a most prestigious college.”
“We discussed him dropping jazz ensemble if he couldn’t meet all his commitments and the possibility of receiving an F,” Mr. Yoon said. “I told them there were many instances of the administration making exceptions to that.”
Yet, Mr. Young held up an email from Dr. Winters to Student A’s father, in which he stated it was not possible to make an exception to the grading policy, and that if he dropped the class he would receive an F.
Mr. Yoon said he’d never seen that email. He said he assumed that when Student A started coming to rehearsal again, it was because he’d decided he wanted to.
Also, in the email from Dr. Winters to Student A’s father, he promised to speak to Mr. Yoon, but according to the band director, he never did.
Mr. Yoon said that during 4th quarter marking period, Student A came to see him to ask why he only had an A and not an A+.
Mr. Yoon explained that the “Plus” is at his discretion, and was generally awarded to students who went above and beyond.
Mr. Yoon, said he was not the only teacher who had issues with Student A. He said the boy’s science teacher said he was also having issues with the boy. “He hailed me in the hallway,” Mr. Yoon said, adding that that teacher had declined to testify despite receiving an invitation.
Mr. Yoon said he would have no issue with again being Student A’s teacher if he kept his job. “He signed up for wind ensemble back in February,” he said of the boy’s expectation Mr. Yoon would again be his teacher right around the time his father issued the complaint.
Mr. Yoon also revealed additional details about the situation with Student B, who he said thrived after he switched her over to bass clarinet, a decision he made with he family.
Mr. Yoon said he’d had a good working relationship with Student B and her family until the girl’s senior year when he said she came down with a case of Senioritis. He said students are allowed to use their phones during class as a metronome, or as an instrument for pitch or tuning device, but she kept texting with it. He warned her that if she continued she would get detention, which she did.
He said his detention meant sitting on stage until it was cleared of students and instruments at the end of class. “That’s when she threatened to quit band and I said, ‘Go ahead,’” the teacher recalled, describing how he called the girl’s bluff. He said the girl had asked him both for a formal recommendation for college during her senior year and informal recommendation at the end of junior year.
Mr. Yoon said he’d heard from the girl’s guidance counselor that she wanted to quit wind ensemble but she was discouraging the girl from doing so, as she’d been a musician herself in high school. The guidance counselor also relayed to Mr. Yoon that the girl had dropped several classes in order to switch teachers, had falling grades in other classes, and described the mother as difficult to deal with.
Mr. Yoon said that he called Student B at home to discuss the situation, but that her mother said she was at a party. Instead he had an hour-long conversation with the mother. “She basically told me how wonderful her daughter was and all the sacrifices she’d made for band,” he recalled, adding that any sacrifices were the same as other students in band. When he suggested the girl not quit, the mother said they’d think about it and get back to him.
He said subsequently Student B’s father came to meet with him in person and apologized for his daughter’s behavior. The girl ultimately remained in the wind ensemble.
Mr. Yoon said Student B had never cried in his class and did not cry when he moved her seat. He said that happened after he warned her with the “zip it sign” to stop talking during class and that he simply had her move back one row, not “send her to the corner” as had been previously suggested. Yoon said he did not bully, ridicule or intentionally embarrass the girl.
“I moved her seat on April 27,” he said recalling the date was clear in his memory because it was the day before he received the letter for his pre-disciplinary hearing.
Questioning returned to the scenario going back 21 years to Dr. Lichtenfeld’s son quit jazz ensemble. Mr. Yoon said students have to re-audition every fall and that when the boy failed to show up for auditions, he assigned the first piano spot to a girl. A week later, the boy said he’d “blown it” and wanted another chance.
“I let him in, but said the girl would remain number one, and he would be number two,” Yoon recalled.
Mr. Yoon said his assistant relayed a conversation in which Dr. Lichtenfeld’s version of the story was quite different.
Mr. Yoon said a significant reason he requested hearings was to clear his name, not to damage the reputation of Student A or B.
He said that because of the gag order during his suspension, rumors were circulating that he could not combat, including rumors he embezzled money or molested or physically hurt a child.
Furthermore, he said he was banned from coming onto the GHS campus and had to miss his daughter’s PPT meeting as well as a ceremony during which she received a meaningful science award.
Asked how students found out the details of why he was out on leave, specifically the boy who mentioned Student A by name when he testified at the Board of Ed hearing in May to defend Mr. Yoon, he replied, “Conjecture.”
Asked how he learned he would not be returning to GHS to teach, Mr. Yoon replied that a friend had called him and described being offered his job by Dr. Winters.
Mr. Young went through the list of “reasons” for termination, which cited examples of unprofessional conduct, asking Mr. Yoon whether he’d been aware of individual complaints and whether he knew each was in his personnel file. Time and again, he replied no to each question.
As in previous hearings, he said many of the incidents were not corroborated after investigations, or had simply never been investigated.
In total Mr. Yoon estimated that of the 21 examples cited in the “Reasons for Termination” that 15 or 16 were complaints that fell into those categories.
“Contractually I’m supposed to see it and sign it,” he said of the complaints he was unaware of. “But professionally, so that I could resolve it.”
Of the incident in the Statement of Reasons referring to purchasing impropriety, Mr. Yoon said Greenwich Music had the winning bid to provide a tuba and that the invoice unfortunately arrived before the purchase order.
Of an accusation in his personnel file that he had made a comment derogatory to biracial people, he pointed out that a number of his family members are biracial.
Of an accusation that he threatened to “hurt” a student, he said it was his awkward wording and he meat that a student’s grade would be hurt if she didn’t make up an absence.
Of another complaint that had been investigated, resulting in his name being cleared, Mr. Yoon said that outcome was “selectively omitted” from his file.
Of the former marching band leader’s letters critical of Mr. Yoon, he said the teacher told him his letters had been coerced.
Of his 16 year employment at the Town of Greenwich’s summer music & art camp, he said an anonymous complaint was sent to Parks & Rec, his employer, suggesting he be fired, but they hired him back anyway. “They said, ‘We know you. We want you back.’”
Mr. Mooney said to Mr. Yoon that he hadn’t heard him take responsibility for a single thing, and asked Mr. Yoon why he hadn’t filed a grievance for the Last Chance agreement despite testifying that he thought it was unfair.
Mr. Yoon said he didn’t know that was an option. He said he was told to show remorse, so he did, to which Mr. Mooney replied by asking, “Is that the extent of your remorse?”
“When you signed the agreement you were admitting you had not behaved appropriately in the past, ”Mooney said. “Why did you sign it?”
“I did not know I had a line item veto on the agreement,” Mr. Yoon replied.
Mr. Mooney pointed out that the point of the Last Chance agreement was to acknowledge a change in behavior was necessary.
“Yes I understood that, but I did not engage in unprofessional conduct,” Mr. Yoon replied.
Late in the afternoon, testimony from a witness for Mr. Yoon, Jean Di Vincenzo, recently retired ESL and Spanish teacher from GHS was videotaped for Mr. Webber’s benefit as he had to leave at 3:15pm.
Mrs. Di Vincenzo said she had taught at GHS for 33 years and in 2002 was named Distinguished Teacher and then Greenwich’s representative for state Teacher of the Year award. She said she’d also received the CEA’s Humanitarian award for her work with immigrants and refugees. While she is retired, has started teaching at Eastern Middle school this year.
She said she came to know Mr. Yoon through “Lunch Bunch,” which was a group of about eight teachers who enjoyed socializing at lunch.
Mr. Yoon invited Mrs. Di Vincenzo to be a chaperone on the Cuba trip, which she did.
“I was blown away by the presence of the students, their behavior, and how they extended themselves to the population,” she said referring to the hosts in Cuba. “The behavior and respect were excellent….It made me proud of GHS and proud of Greenwich.”
Of the consequence for misbehavior, “Breakfast Club,” she said it entailed getting up early to have breakfast with Mr. Yoon, and then running or doing something interactive with him.
“There was no objection to it. They just went on from it,” she said adding how she’d had the chance to observe the interactions of Mr. Yoon and his students who understood his expectation. She said that the students even explained to her what the expectations were as she was a self-described “newbie” chaperoning the trip.
Mrs. Di Vincenzo said that this past year at GHS, she had served as an informal coach to Mr. Yoon who sought her advice. She said he came to her office twice a week on average, sometimes more and that she knew he followed her advice based on their follow-up conversations.
“I felt listened to and that he considered my input valuable,” she said, adding that he had told her about his Last Chance agreement and following that, his questions became much more specific.
“I find him willing to listen to other perspectives,” she said. “The Lunch Bunch takes no prisoners,” she joked.
After a five-minute break, Mr. Mooney had a chance to ask Mrs. Di Vincenzo questions, but, after introducing himself and thanking her for her 33 years of teaching, he said he had no questions.
Email news tips to Greenwich Free Press editor Leslie.Yager@GreenwichFreePress.com
Like us on Facebook
Subscribe to the daily Greenwich Free Press newsletter.