Board engages in marathon hearing

By Dennis Minich

The Harrisonville School Board held an 11-hour marathon session Tuesday night with a hearing requested by high school teacher who has been recommended for termination.

Following an investigation, John Magoffin was placed on administrative leave after district officials determined he had committed four violations of district policy. It was alleged Magoffin had used the “N-word” during a discussion in his AP biology class; that he had referred to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday as “black privilege day,” that he had told a student the class could not have a walking mask break “because she was black,” and that he had told female students they shouldn’t wear leggings “because you can see things hanging out.”

The meeting continued even though the court reporter assigned said she was told it would be over by 9:30 and Magoffin’s attorney, Jean Lamfers, asked at midnight to stop the proceedings. The school board went into executive session and voted to continue on.

School Board President Tina Graef came back and said they would proceed despite Lamfers’ objections.

Lamfers said early in the hearing that a lawsuit had been filed in Cole County Court today alleging the entire action should be overturned because the school board did not properly adopt the policy Magoffin was accused of violating. She stated in her filing the board voted on a policy which had not been attached to the board packet so the board didn’t know what it was voting on.

The hearing opened with HHS Principal Mark Weigers spending nearly three hours on the witness stand, first outlining the course of the investigation of the allegations and later responding to Lamfers’ examination where she questioned the thoroughness of the investigation.

The administration’s case was spearheaded by attorney Duane Martin, who outlined the various charges and how and when they came to Weigers’ attention.

“A student had told his parents Magoffin used the N-word in biology class. He said the teacher used the N-word and he was very uncomfortable,” Weigers said.

He said the discussion was focusing on why the word was appropriate in rap culture, but not appropriate in other parts of society. Weigers said he interviewed all seven students in the class and four remembered Magoffin using the entire N-word.

Weigers further outlined a number of accusations which appear to be alleged by a pair of female students. Lamfers objected to one of the student’s comments being allowed because she was not available to testify.

Lamfers questioned Weigers about the inconsistency of treatment, first noting the school requires reading of “To Kill a Mockingbird” even though it contains the N-word, and secondly that teachers who had used inappropriate language in the past had not been terminated.

“There is a difference between the word in a classic piece of literature and by a teach in AP biology,” Weigers said.

Following Weigers’ testimony, six students testified, including three who testified they heard Magoffin’s use of the N-word.

The administration’s case ended with Superintendent Paul Mensching testifying.

“It was my recommendation his contract be terminated,” Mensching said. “I believe it is our job as administrators and the school board to protect our students at all times. This was not just one comment in one classroom, it was willful disregard.

“We should not allow that kind of behavior in front of our students.”

The board has the final decision on whether or not a tenured teacher can be terminated.

Magoffin testified “he did not think” he used the whole N-word. He told the context of the conversation with a student, who was not one of those testifying.

“He was trying to understand how we determine what is acceptable and not acceptable. I couldn’t even write the word (in my statement) I can’t believe I ever said the word.

Magoffin denied each of the other charges. He noted students were denied walking mask breaks after two girls “failed to come back” from such a break. He said he would tell them; you can’t go on a break “because you didn’t come back.”

He further explained that one of the allegations that he had told girls in his class that leggings were inappropriate because of birthing hips. “I’ve never even heard that phrase. I did have a conversation with a female student along with another teacher where I used the term ‘childbirth hips,’” Magoffin said.

A female student was called who heard the leggings conversation and her testimony reflected much of Magoffin’s statements. A teacher, Amy Kump also testified reinforcing many of Magoffin’s comments.

The meeting, which began at 5:30 p.m. ended at 4:41 a.m.. Wednesday. Graef said prior to the hearing the board would not be making any decisions or voting tonight.

The board went into executive session following the meeting to decide when further action will be taken. It is unclear when the decision will be made.