The start of Day 8 of John Yoon’s hearings to determine whether he will keep his teaching job at Greenwich High School started out with the Superintendent’s Attorney, Mr. Mooney, again asking the band teacher about his “representation” leading up to the Last Chance Agreement he signed in 2014.
He pointed out, out over and over, that Mr. Yoon had “representation” from both the CEA and GEA. Mr. Yoon replied that, yes, he had union representation. Later when his own attorney Daniel Young asked,“Were you represented by an Attorney?” the band teacher replied simply, “No.”
“But the superintendent did have an attorney?” Young asked, to which Mr. Yoon replied, “Yes.”
Mr. Mooney brought up an email sent to the Superintendent as recently as last week. The letter, which was sent from one of Mr. Yoon’s students back in the 1980s in Utah, where he taught high school before coming to Greenwich, had been shared with Mr. Webber, the hearing officer. The email alleged that Mr. Yoon had rapped inappropriately about a student on one occasion, and on a separate occasion had ripped his shirt off.
Mr. Yoon said he had no memory of incidents described in the email having happened 30 years ago. “My recollection of my teaching in Utah was that it was very positive. I don’t remember any students having any negative issues,” he said.
The Superintendent’s attorney brought up GHS Research Science teacher Andy Bramante’s email reply in which he declined to testify on behalf of the band teacher. Mr. Yoon said the science teacher had shared similar issues about Student A’s behavior in class, but was reluctant to testify for fear of retribution from the school administration.
“He cc’d Dr. Winters because he wanted t let him know he was on his team,” Yoon said of the research science teacher cc’ing the headmaster.
Mr. Yoon said Mr. Bramante declined to testify, citing his email saying he would be “put in a very difficult position.” Mr. Yoon said he understood that took that to mean teachers are fearful for their jobs at Greenwich High School because of an atmosphere created by the administration.
Mr. Mooney asked the band teacher why he hadn’t asked permission to attend his daughter’s PPT meeting, which the band teacher said he regretted having to miss during his gag order and ban from school grounds. Mr. Mooney pointed out that Mr. Yoon did get permission teach the summer music camp at Central Middle School.
“Growing up in Korea, when you’re told you’re being reprimanded… I was only concerned about teaching and working with the kids,” Mr. Yoon replied. Later, Mr. Young asked the band teacher who had asked permission for an exception to the ban to accept the Parks & Rec summer job. Mr. Yoon took a few minutes to remember that his attorney, Mr. Young, had asked for that permission on his behalf.
Mr. Mooney asked Mr. Yoon if he agreed with the statement, “Children, even high school students, take their cues from adults when they interact, and when they think they are treated unfairly react with negativity.”
“Students vote with their feet if they felt they were being treated unfairly,” Mr. Yoon replied.
Over and over Mr. Mooney asked the band teacher questions that included harsh words such as painful, hurt, cut, public shaming and strip.
Returning again to the moment Mr. Yoon relieved Student A from his section leader post by collecting his sheet music in front of his peers, which took place the Monday morning after he made the entire band late to a Friday festival competition in Darien, Mooney asked, “So you are publicly shaming him?” and, “You stripped him of his leadership responsibility?”
Mr. Yoon again said Student A had been late or missed 9 out of 16 classes. “It was very appropriate,” he said of the consequence. “We’re talking about someone who is no longer viable as a leader.”
Mooney asked Mr. Yoon why he described student A’s absence as a “cut.” The particular absence took place the very next day after Yoon said he would alter the boy’s grade retroactively if he made up missed time. “Did you know it was a cut? Did you check?” Mooney asked.
Mr. Yoon explained that an absence is considered a cut if there was no evidence of an excuse.
Mr. Mooney asked about Mr. Yoon’s reference to students being forced to make painful decisions. “Why do you think pain is involved?” Mr. Mooney asked, at which point several people in the hearing room groaned.
Mr. Yoon explained that students interested in multiple activities have to sometimes make tough choices, but if a a student comes to him in advance about a conflict they are allowed to miss time if they make it up.
Mr. Mooney asked about “hurting” a student. Again, Mr. Yoon replied that English is his second language, and that the word had been used in the context of a student’s grade. “I was talking about her grade and not physical harm,” he said. He noted the girl made up her unexcused absence right away.
“I have always treated everybody fairly and equitably and professionally,” Mr. Yoon said. “Just because somebody complains, does not mean they were treated unfairly.”
Mr. Mooney asked about Mr. Yoon’s version of detention and whether it amounted to “public shaming.”
“No, it is no different to asking a kid in elementary school to take quiet time,” he said of his detention policy of not dismissing a student from class until all others clear off their instruments and belongings and leave.
Later, when “Student G”, a member of the GHS class of 2015, called in to testify from college at George Washington University, she said she’d never seen Mr. Yoon mete out a detention, but that Student A had deserved one, having been talking and repeatedly using her phone to text, check Facebook and Instagram, and take and post photos on social media during class.
“She was speaking out of turn for the 100th time. She would not listen,” Student G said. “It happened almost every day.” G said she had not observed Mr. Yoon being rude, and she had never observed Student B being made to cry by Mr. Yoon.
Asked by Mr. Mooney to explain Mr. Yoon’s detention, Student G, on the conference call, said, “I don’t know the logistics. Just that he asked her to stay…. I believe the detention is to stay after class with Mr. Yoon.” She said she had never seen him issue a detention prior to that day.
Mr. Mooney asked Student G whether she heard Student B threaten to quit band rather than have detention. “She was a little surprised. She deserved it,” Student G said of A’s reaction to getting detention. Of the threat to quit, G said, “She said it under her breath. The whole class didn’t hear it. Only me.”
Student G described in detail the behavior of Student B, which included talking in class, “not respecting the authority of the teacher,” and using her phone for texting and social media. “She was moved over one seat because she kept trying to talk to me,” G said, adding that Student B’s seat was right next to hers. G said B’s seat was moved again, but only one row back, and only for that one class. She said Mr. Yoon did not scream at student B. Nor had she ever witnessed him behave unprofessionally or yell at students.
Band mom Christina Downey, a lawyer with an MBA and three children who have all been part of Mr. Yoon’s band, testified on the band teacher’s behalf.
Downey, who has for six years been the co-president of the “Band Boosters,” said she had accompanied the band on the trip to Greece, including several days the band was stuck in that country following a volcano in Iceland. She described the trip as, “as seamless as it can be when you’re stuck…. All of us were completely calm. Mr. Yoon organized study time. They knew what was the plan.”
Mrs. Downey said Mr. Yoon’s expectations are clearly communicated. Asked whether he is ever ambiguous, she smiled. “That would not be a word I’d use to describe him,” she said to a round of laughs from the audience in the hearing room.
“He talks about their expectation. Parents learn about their roles too,” Downey said. Asked if it was possible to get an A in Band class, the band mom made a joke about it being easy to get an A.
On the topic of conflicts that active students have with other activities and band, Downey said, “All my children played sports and participated in clubs. But you have to make choices in what you participate in. My son dropped ski team,” she said. He made that choice and I respected it.” She said Mr. Yoon had not required that choice and that both her son and daughter had “moved down the chain on occasion,” when asked about Mr. Yoon removing a section leader from his post. “It was performance based — you move on,” she said.
Downey was asked by Mr. Mooney if she’d ever seen Mr. Yoon be “verbally abusive.”
“No,” she replied. “He expects the students to be present, pay attention, focus and try their hardest regardless of their ability.” She added that her children had learned life skills including working in a large group, punctuality and tolerance. She said her children had written their college essays based on experiences in band, and that her son at University of Michigan had joined the band there, but said it wasn’t as good as the one at GHS.
Nancy Kail took the witness stand on Monday. The mother of three children who are all now in college said she plays the trumpet herself. Kail, a longtime PTA volunteer, said she first started volunteering at Riverside School when her children were grade school age. She later became a member of the Board of Education, where she was on the Negotiation Committee, chaired the Policy Governance Committee, and was on the search committee that recommended Dr. McKersie to be Superintendent.
Ms. Kail said she helped Mr. Yoon plan the Cuba trip. She said she’d never see him lose his temper, though she described him as stern and strong. “It’s no small feet to corral a number of students to perform….Directing a music group is different than leading an academic classroom.”
Kail said her oldest child went on the China trip and that all Mr. Yoon’s expectations were clear. She said unlike grade school, when her kids got to GHS, she kept a low profile, but, she said, “My three kids always knew what the expectations were.”
“I wish I had teachers like Mr. Yoon who cared so much,” she said. “If all teachers cared that much about their students, it would be a beautiful thing.”
Mr. Mooney asked Ms. Kail if she was a teacher, to which she replied, no. He asked if she was certified to teach, to which she replied no. She said she had helped teach math at the grade school level and taught religion.
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The last witness to testify on Monday was Student F, who is currently a senior at GHS. The boy said he was hoping that Student A would not know that he testified. Therefore GFP will not identify his instrument or any part of his testimony that might indicate his identity.
Student F did say he is a straight A student with a 4.9 GPA who takes challenging course load in addition to holding leadership positions and participating in other activities. He said that on the Friday the band traveled to Darien for a festival competition, he’d been in the same meeting with Student A, but left to get to the bus “on time,” which he said meant early. He offered to recite the Yoonism about how being early means being on time, and being on time is as good as being late, but the hearing officer demurred.
Student F said Student A made the bus about 20 minutes late and that Student A did not apologize. Also, he said Mr. Yoon did not yell at Student A.
Student F described in great detail the behavior of Student A on that Friday, and his behavior leading up to that day. “He looked at video and Facebook during class. Procrastinator would be a very good word for him,” student F said.
In class, Student F said that A showed up late many times. “He brought down the mood and vibe of of others trying to improve their productivity. He sneered when Mr. Yoon told him things essential to do a good sound.”
Of student B, Student F said she spent class time taking pictures of a tenor sax player to his left during sectionals, and kept busy on her phone with Instagram and Facebook. He said he’d never seen Mr. Yoon make the girl cry. He said he saw no behavior that was “verbally abusive.”
Student F said Student A was frequently tardy or absent, and was unprepared for class. “He’d steal a freshman or sophomore’s instrument to make himself look prepared,” Student F said, adding that when Mr. Yoon was absent from school last spring, he figured out who Students A and B were. Ultimately, student F said he figured out the identity of Students A and B, and he and Student P went to the headmaster to defend Mr. Yoon. “I went to see Dr. Winters to see if there was an efficient fashion for Mr. Yoon to come back.”
Student F said he and Student P subsequently had a meeting with Dr. Lichtenfeld and Dr. McKersie, and that Student P had summarized an accurate account of the meeting, which features details on Student A’s lack of motivation, and lack of morale.
The next, and final hearing is scheduled for Oct.8 at 10:30am in Havemeyer.
Email news tips to Greenwich Free Press editor Leslie.Yager@GreenwichFreePress.com
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