If our local school district and Board of Education thought the case of Jeff Christian would fade quickly into the night, they might want to think again.
Supporters of Christian, the former Davis High girls basketball head coach who was unceremoniously fired mid-season, have been meeting formally and informally as they seek to correct what they see as a grievous wrong.
Already a defense fund has been established at River City Bank after a number of those seeking Christian’s reinstatement expressed interest in helping him pursue his case against the district.
Christian’s attorney Steve Boutin, however, still maintains hope that cooler heads will prevail and that a lawsuit will be unnecessary. In that regard, he e-mailed school district attorney Scot Yarnell Friday afternoon suggesting a new solution to the problem that has dominated local headlines for most of the last month.
“The District appears to be attempting to close the book on this matter,” Boutin wrote. “Please understand this matter is not going away. Neither the Davis public nor Jeff will countenance this type of terribly unfair treatment. However, we are willing to extend a second and final ‘olive branch.’ “
According to Boutin, “Despite Jeff’s treatment by the District of late, he still greatly cares for the DHS girls basketball program, and the players, past and present, who he has had the opportunity to work with over the past five-plus years. His goal has been, and continues to be, to build the character of his players and to create an athletic program of which Davis High and the community can be proud. In short, Jeff wishes to be reinstated as head coach of the girls varsity team.”
While acknowledging that that possibility has already been rejected for this season by the administration and the school board, Boutin adds “In a second effort to work out a mutually agreeable compromise, we are hereby proposing that it now be agreed that he be reinstated as head coach for next season.”
Now there’s a proposal with considerable upside. First, it doesn’t undo the action of either the administration or the board to relieve Christian of his duties for the remainder of this season, thus no one has to swallow hard and admit to making a mistake. Second, the administration has it well within its power to hire Christian back for next season without seeking formal board approval. So no board member will have to admit to violating due process in this firing.
In other words, the decision to relieve Christian of his duties for the remainder of this season will remain in force, but any action Boutin and Christian might take against the district for that decision will be dropped if the district simply agrees to hire him back next season.
“We hope the District will recognize that this is a sensible compromise and that it is certainly preferable to the alternatives,” Boutin continues. “Davis High School would be getting back an excellent role model, person and coach who will continue to give his all for his team and the players. As the Board heard from Jeff’s former players at its meeting of January 20, Jeff has had a profound positive impact on these players’ lives. He has been and will continue to be a tremendous asset to players on the Davis High School team.”
Boutin goes on to say “The District has to date refused our numerous requests to have an open hearing on the matter. However, each of the Board members should understand that the truth will come out. Absent settlement, certain employees of the District, including the Superintendent, Athletic Director and Principal, should know that, in the not too distant future, they will be testifying under penalty of perjury. At that point, the consequences will be much, much more severe for those who have not been forthright and who have betrayed the public’s trust.”
Adds Boutin: “It is our studied opinion that because the facts will show that the termination of Jeff Christian resulted from a complaint, he was statutorily entitled to receive written notice from the Board of Education. Since the Board did not afford him that written notice, and an opportunity to have his matter heard in open session, the action of the Board to terminate Jeff was statutorily ‘null and void.’ ”
Boutin concludes with one final plea for reason as this process moves forward. He writes: “We hope the District will dispassionately and expeditiously consider the compromise proposal of reinstatement for next season. If the District does not rectify this wrong, it will be precipitating what could have been unnecessary litigation and the consequences thereof. A majority of the School Board and certain members of the Administration would be ill-advised to underestimate our resolve.”
The ball is now clearly in the district’s court. It’s time for those who represent the citizens of Davis to revisit this case from the beginning and grant Jeff Christian the legally mandated full and open hearing he has been consistently denied.
If the Board is unwilling to do so, it should at the very least accept Boutin’s reasonable compromise of hiring Christian back to coach next season.
Otherwise, it is clear that ego and stubborn pride will cause the district to spend untold thousands of tax dollars defending the indefensible. Not to mention what a settlement might ultimately cost.
At this time of fiscal crisis in our schools, that would not be a wise course to take.
— Reach Bob Dunning at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com