By Evan Triantafilidis
The Greenwich community continues to struggle over 23-year Greenwich High School Band Director John Yoon. With strong feelings on both sides of the issue, the town is working to resolve two very different views of Mr. Yoon’s teaching abilities.
Mr. Yoon sat through two days of hearings as witnesses testified in the appeal of his termination. The next meeting is scheduled for August 10.
Mr. Yoon was placed on leave in April after allegedly verbally intimidating students.
During his 23-year career at GHS, Mr. Yoon has a history of complaints from parents and students, as well as strong support from former students and band members.
GHS Headmaster Chris Winters was the only testimony heard on Tuesday in the Board of Education meeting room answering questions about Yoon’s time at GHS.
The venue was moved to Glenville Elementary School on Wednesday to accommodate the large crowd.
The four-hour hearing Wednesday featured Dr. Lichtenfeld, the former Director of Human Resources for Greenwich Public Schools as well as the Custodian of Personnel Records, as the only testimony. According to Dr. Lichtenfeld, who resigned last month, Mr. Yoon breached a “last chance” agreement he signed last May.
“The primary issue in the last chance agreement talks about rudeness towards students or parents and how it will not be tolerated,” said Dr. Lichtenfeld. “It also mentions unprofessional conduct towards staff, students or parents and forms of bullying.
“You have parents who are afraid to come make a complaint and you have students that feel like they are being treated in an unfair way.”
Mr. Yoon had to sign the “last chance” papers following a confrontation with a colleague last May, when Yoon received a 10-day suspension and mandatory therapy at his own expense as part of the deal.
According to Dr. Lichtenfeld, the altercation with a teacher in the Music Department was a “heated conversation with raised voices … and almost came to blows.” Dr. Lichtenfeld said Yoon’s prior history played a large role in the decision to suspend him.
The GHS Band Director has been suspended twice before and has received written warnings dating back to over a decade ago for profanity, violating district purchasing guidelines, and alleged bullying, according to an FOI request.
The latest allegations have to do with stripping a band student of their section leadership role.
“Mr. Yoon has every right to set the standards and he has every right to select who the leadership of the band is,” said Dr. Lichtenfeld. “It’s only a matter of how you go about handling that student.”
Mr. Yoon reportedly “didn’t have the time” to speak to the student he was disciplining and stripped the band member of his responsibilities without notifying student or parents.
In a second, more complicated issue, a different student claims they were yelled at and embarrassed publicly by Mr. Yoon in his classroom.
Mr. Yoon remained quiet during the meeting Tuesday, but his support included dozens of people wearing “Bring Back Mr. Yoon” buttons.
Groups of former students, parents, and band members showed support advocating for his return to GHS.
Ellen Hayden, who has had two kids go through the band program, says that she has been impressed with the band over the years.
“My kids all knew that Mr. Yoon expected a lot from them, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary,” Hayden said. “As a team player, they were both athletes, so they know what it’s like to be a team player. They know that if you slack off it reflects on the whole team.
“Over the years they have won so many awards because they’ve done so well. They’re nationally known because they work hard as a team. I don’t think his expectations are too demanding at all.”
As recently as April, all three GHS concert bands and both of their jazz ensembles earned gold ratings at a performance festival in Washington D.C.
A Facebook group called, “Bring Back Mr. Yoon 2015” has over 520 members and a petition to “Retract Mr. John Yoon’s Administrative Leave” on Change.org has over 600 supporters.
A total of five public appeal hearings were scheduled if needed, with the next meeting scheduled for Aug. 10.