Brown County Schools terminate coach – policy update needed?

Summary:  On Jan 23, a school employee (part-time coach and substitute teacher) posts a controversial picture on social media and defends the post.  The post goes “viral”  and leads to strong reactions on both sides.  Copy of the picture sent to the Superintendent who on Jan 25, identified termination as an option.  On Jan 31, a WTHR interview of the Superintendent and teacher  identified that they “decided they could work together to make it “a teachable moment.”  A  special, closed meeting of the Brown County Schools Board of Trustees met on Jan 31 to discuss the issue.  The Superintendent issues a Press Release on Feb 1 identifying the issue, acknowledging the controversy, reinforcing the school policy and identifying an education and training initiative.  At the school board meeting on Feb 8, the teacher was asked to resign his coaching position but no mention as to his status as a substitute teacher.  Substitutes are hired from Kelly Educational Staffing (KES®). The teacher refused to resign his coaching position and was terminated from employment.

A process perspective regarding the issue.

  1. Governance. The School Board owns policy and process. We elect them and they hire and supervise the Superintendent.
  2.  Risk Management. The potential of issues going viral is a risk for any organization. When the issue became “viral,” among the first steps is for the Board and Superintendent to review the risk management and mitigation plan. Was the risk identified and if so, what is the policy? Does the policy include an education and training requirement, guidance on press releases, interviews, etc. ?
  3.  Policy. A policy would identify the process and guidance for managing the situation. It would also have to align with current statutes, regulations, and contracts that cover employee behavior.
  4.  Enforcement.  If an employee clearly violated a valid policy, options could range from termination, reprimand, counseling, mandatory training, and/or probation. If the policy is too vague, then it needs to be updated.
  5.  Continual Learning. No process is perfect and this situation identifies an opportunity to review the process and make any needed improvements.

Feb 11, 2019. BCD.  School board votes for assistant coach’s termination by Suzannah Couch.  Two weeks after Richard Gist, an assistant track coach, posted a photo of himself in blackface to a Facebook conversation thread, the Brown County school board voted to approve his termination on Feb. 7. …. Gist had been given a “path” to return to Brown County Schools as a substitute teacher and assistant football coach next school year, explained board President Steve Miller Jr. The week prior, Gist and Superintendent Laura Hammack met to discuss a plan.

FEBRUARY 7, 2019, 8:22 P.M BY UPDATED AT 10:48PM,   Brown County Schools terminates coach who posted photo of himself in blackface

This was the plan the district offered Gist:

  1. Resign as assistant track coach. In the belief that his presence would be a distraction, to provide a “cooling off” period for the next two steps to be completed.
  2. Participate in cultural competency training and
  3. Participate in online civility training both of which the district has pledged to implement for all BCS staff and lay coaches.

Gist said he refused the offer solely on the grounds that he would not submit a letter of resignation.

FEB 7, 2019 WTHRBrown County teacher fired amid controversy over old photo

  • Last week, Brown County Schools Superintendent Dr. Laura Hammack said she considered terminating Gist, but decided they could work together to make it “a teachable moment.”
  • “There are opportunities when you make a mistake to repair that harm, you can step up and make that happen by educating yourself and apologizing then great things can happen,” Hammack said last week.

FEBRUARY 1, 2019. BCD FaceBook Brown County Schools Press Release  Response to the controversy 

JANUARY 31, 2019. WTHR   Brown County learns lesson after old photo draws controversy

  • Initially, Hammack considered termination, but upon talking with Gist, the two have decided the substitute teacher, who also serves as assistant track and football coach, can work together make this a teachable moment.
  • “We are really focused on ways to make this a learning opportunity to educate boys and girls in our community. We see this as a teachable moment,” she stated.
  • Don Griffin with the NAACP in Bloomington said this solution where Gist keeps his job and works to educate others is the best way to address this situation.

JANUARY 29, 2019.  BCD, Coach’s profile picture sparks conversation on what’s offensive

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