NPS fires long-time teacher, coach with cause after lengthy hearing
NORFOLK, Neb. – A 46-year veteran of Norfolk Public Schools will no longer be teaching and coaching in the school district after a seven-and-a-half-hour meeting Tuesday.
The proposed termination of Tony Brown, who has been a physical education teacher and a coach of various sports, was put before the NPS Board of Education. The board faced approximately six hours of evidentiary hearing, before deliberating for approximately 90 minutes.
The school district provided several documented complaints from administrators, some of them dating back nearly two decades.
“It says to me that district administration doesn’t have much of a case,” Brown’s attorney Jonathan Hunzeker said of the variety of types and dates of allegations. “It’s the old throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.”
Attorney Justin Knight, who represented school administration, argued that the case was simpler than that.
“It comes down to two things,” Knight said to the board in closing arguments. “One, do you believe that a teacher should follow directions? And two, do you think it’s okay for a teacher to shove a student?”
School administrators argued that Brown repeatedly used his school computer and school phone for personal reasons, including gaming sites and personal emails, stating that Brown continued to defy orders and use his school-issued devices for non-work-related activities. NPS superintendent Dr. Jami Jo Thompson argued that carelessness with email and internet-related activity put the school at risk of ransomware and malware.
NPS Director of Human Resources Angie Baumann said that Brown lied to her about his online activity, which prompted the school district to seek termination. She also said that he propped open an exterior door, which went against school policy and put students at risk.
Also at issue was a September incident which was captured on video, during which administrators say Brown pushed a student, then called him a “sissy.”
Hunzeker argued that the district did not seek to provide guidance and assistance for helping his 68-year-old client navigate technology, instead seeking evidence for firing him, in part due to his age.
Hunzeker called several character witnesses toward the end of the hearing, including former colleagues and students.
The school district had proposed terminating Brown’s contract at the end of the school year, meaning he would teach the final semester of the 2022-23 school year before being let go. Hunzeker argued that if his was a threat to student safety and a productive workplace that it was counterintuitive to keep him on for five more months. Brown was seeking to gain another year on his contract before retiring.
The school board ultimately proposed terminating Brown’s contract. They also chose to put him on paid administrative leave for the remainder of the school year. The board voted unanimously to approve the proposal.