Brainerd Teacher Faces Suspension Over Trump Yearbook Controversy
Summer school in Brainerd has included an unusual academic exercise: An investigation into how a student’s threat to behead President Trump got included in the Class of 2017’s yearbook. The over-the-top anti-Trump comments in the annual attracted Secret Service attention.
The school’s yearbook adviser, art teacher Joe Wagner, was put on paid administrative leave, pending results of an outside investigation conducted by a Minneapolis law firm. The report was completed in June, leading to news that Wagner will be suspended for five days and removed from his position as yearbook adviser in the the north central Minnesota school district, according to the Brainerd Dispatch.
The investigation raised concerns over lax supervision on the part of the Wagner but did not find that his personal political views were a factor in the incident. A letter to Wagner from Brainerd Schools Superintendent Laine Larson spelled out some of the report’s findings.
Larson gave serious consideration to firing Wagner, she wrote, but chose not to, because Wagner is a long-term employee with no prior discipline or history of engaging in similar behavior. He also has shown remorse for his actions, she wrote.
“However, my decision not to pursue discharge should not be misconstrued as being tolerant of your conduct,” Larson wrote.
During Wagner’s interview as part of the investigation, he said he made a final review of the yearbook before submitting it to Jostens for printing. As for the political quotes, Wagner said he did not review quotes for content, but instead looked for page design and typographical issues.
“You admitted that you exercised poor professional judgment by not adequately reviewing the content of the yearbook,” Larson wrote.
The investigation revealed issues with the grading rubric Wagner used for students in the yearbook class. The provided rubric indicates students are graded on the accuracy and factuality of their stories and captions. Wagner admitted he did not review page 11 of the yearbook, but still gave a student a grade for working on the page.
“Based on the weight of the evidence, the district concludes that you willfully neglected your duties and issued a grade without any legitimate basis,” Larson wrote.
Wagner did not require students to maintain or submit any record verifying the accuracy of quotes or polls used in the yearbook. He also did not require students to maintain or submit a record verifying they had obtained a student’s consent to using their quotes in the yearbook.
As American Experiment pointed out when the controversy surfaced in May, Crow Wing County voted overwhelmingly for Trump by 32 percent. The over-the-top anti-Trump comments in the annual led several parents to protest and attracted Secret Service attention.