Split board fires teacher

By Dennis Minich

By the narrowest of margins, the Harrisonville R-9 School Board voted June 30 to terminate the contract of tenured teacher John Magoffin. In a release, the district said, “The Board concluded that Mr. Magoffin’s use of inappropriate language violated the rules and regulations of the district and was unacceptable conduct for a tenured teacher in the district.”

Magoffin was the subject of an 11-hourdisciplinary hearing June 15 where four charges were outlined including the use of the “N word” in class, calling the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday “black privilege day,” telling a student her class could not take a walking mask break because “she was black” and that he said women shouldn’t wear leggings because “you can see things hanging out.”

The board met in closed session last week. They had to decide whether they agreed with the administration’s affirmation that “it was more likely than not” that Magoffin had knowingly and willfully violated the district’s policies. The final vote was 4-3 with board members Tina Graef, Doug Meyer, Doug Alexander and Nancy Shelton voting to terminate with members Brittney Sexton, Cameron Chenoweth and Bing Schimmelpfenning voting no.

The district’s release continued: “We commend the students and parents in bringing forth their concerns to the administration so that this matter could be appropriately addressed. We also commend our teachers and employees who uphold the high standards of our profession and work diligently each day on behalf of all students.”

Magoffin’s attorney, Jean Lamfers from Kansas City issued an immediate response.

“Mr. Magoffin is disappointed with the Board’s decision. He presented credible evidence in his favor as to each charge, others substantiated his account, he stands by his testimony and continues todeny he ever willfully or persistently violated any properly adopted and published district regulations. The students’ recollections are not shared by him and were refuted by others, as well.

“He bears no ill will against students who came forward and finds fault with the administrators for not equally applying district rules to him and to other district employees. He takes issue with the administration for not having seen to the proper adoption of regulations in July 2020, which the administrators charged him under and for not following the law regarding due process and the Teacher Tenure Act’s termination protocols.

“The board’s decision masks the administration’s mishandling of the entire matter from beginning to end at Mr. Magoffin’s expense. Allowing the administration to place him on leave without board approval, in the first instance on April 20, denied him equal protection of the law and violated due process. Allowing the administration to fail to take any action to investigate his credible complaints of threats made by the family of a district employee, who violated district confidentiality rules by posting false allegations and using inappropriate language directed at him, exacerbated the situation and violated his rights.

“Mr. Magoffin’s declaratory judgment action in Cole County, on constitutional and procedural issues, will proceed and he plans to appeal the board’s decision.

“On a side note, the board refuses to release to Mr. Magoffin the vote tally, by yeas and nays, by board member name even though his counsel has provided the board’s counsel with a copy of a longstanding Missouri Attorney General opinion on school boards releasing this information after a closed vote on a teacher termination matter. They have been given several hours to do so and have not responded except with an excuse about preparing Minutes, the decision does not have to include the vote tally, and the Sunshine Law requirements give them time to respond to the teacher (three days presumably). The fact the district has issued a news release belies the good faith of withholding the entire decision from the teacher. The Teacher Tenure Act is applicable, and this is not within the letter or spirit of the law, which says “[a] written copy of the decision shall be furnished to the teacher within three days thereafter.”

Magoffin spoke Monday and related some of the details surrounding his case.

“I felt like I was sucker-punched by Mr. (Mark) Wiegers (Harrisonville High School Principal). Why did he not follow up with the adults, not just the students? The “N word” thing was the only new thing, the others all happened in the past. I have no recollection of the Martin Luther King thing and in the other cases, I gave him the names of one to four adults who were present when these things reportedly occurred. He didn’t weigh the adult testimony,” Magoffin said.

Magoffin noted on the day he was suspended, he had no previous knowledge of any issues. He was meeting with another teacher when Wiegers and Assistant Principal Mark Rovig came and walked him to Wiegers’ office. He was given a sheet
of paper saying he was suspended, but had no information concerning the charges.

“They wouldn’t even let me go back to my room. They went and collected my personal items and then walked me out of
the building,” Magoffin said.

“Normally, when you’ve done something wrong you know it. I didn’t feel like I had any reason to worry. I had no idea what they thought I had done wrong.”

He noted he was given a chance to resign with no repercussions.

“They gave me a chance to resign within 24 hours and all this goes away. If I was guilty, why wouldn’t I sign it and get away free? I decided I had to make a stand. They were, in essence, saying to all their teachers, make a mistake, use a wrong word and you are gone. They can do this to any teacher at any time,” Magoffin said.

“The second one student says they are uncomfortable, you’re done.” He said the first he had any inkling of what the charges were was when he received an email from a parent, who is also a teacher.

“He talked about microaggressions against his daughter. I had never heard of the term so I looked it up,” Magoffin said.

“Microaggressions is a hallmark of critical race theory. His daughter had told me since I was white, I was automatically racist. She said you may not know it, but you just have to accept it.”

Magoffin had been with the district for nine years. During that course of time, he was selected seven times by honor graduates as their most-influential teacher.

“I had one student write about me, ‘Whoever you are or wherever you come from, he respects you.’ That’s the way I have always tried to be and that’s why I can’t believe I have been accused of these things,” he said.

Magoffin noted he has had some issues with administration, but nothing which he considered extreme. Among the issues were a field trip for anatomy students to a cadaver lab at Missouri Southern and the way grades for online students were being calculated. He also noted a message which was sent by Superintendent Paul Mensching concerning comments Magoffin had made about Mormonism.

Mensching is Mormon.

He noted he wished the entire situation had been handled differently. “It was kind of useless in the (hearing). That court would have convicted Ghandi of war crimes. I still can’t believe I said the ‘N word,’ but if I did, the message the power is not in the word, it is in the meaning behind it.

“I am honest about who I am and what I believe. There are a group of people in this world who don’t respect Christian, conservative people. I think we are all people and we are looking for ways to get through life together. We are all the
same,” Magoffin said.

District officials declined to comment.

Lamfers said a case is still pending in Cole County Circuit Court claiming the school district violated Magoffin’s Constitutional rights and acted outside of its authority. She said she is also preparing an appeal to the district’s decision which will be filed in Cass County District Court. It has to be done by July 15. She said other legal action is possible.