Concordia School Board Votes to Give Notice of Intent to Terminate Science Teacher Bruce Jacobs
The USD 333 Concordia Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt a resolution to give notice of their intent to terminate junior high science and horticulture teacher Bruce Jacobs from his employment with the school district during a special meeting on Monday, August 15th.
The decision came one week after Jacobs and board member Tony Miller engaged in a heated confrontation following adjournment of the board's August 8th regular meeting, including expletives that were bellowed out before the intense disagreement spilled into the street.
Jacobs was outraged over a decision this summer to spray products that resulted in an on-campus butterfly garden being poisoned.
For his part, Jacobs expressed some regret for how the discussion went down.
"What happened last Monday night, I was backed into a corner that I felt no other way out. I do apologize, Mr. Miller. I do apologize that you were the target of that. I do not apologize for what I said. I just apologize that it was directed at a single person," Jacobs said during the special board meeting.
In an email to district teachers and staff over the weekend, USD 333 Concordia Superintendent Quentin Breese wrote "the action of spraying weeds had administrative approval" and that "the district took action to ensure the grounds are maintained and presentable as we began our new school year."
Superintendent Breese explained that the weeds around the school building have been an issue since the construction of the greenhouse, and that patrons perceived the weeds around the greenhouse and butterfly garden as blight, reflecting poorly on the school's support staff for not maintaining the areas. Breese said the administration's repeated attempts to work with Jacobs to correct the blight never materialized into acceptable action.
Superintendent Breese also outlined that a plan had been discussed to relocate the butterfly garden, essentially starting over near the greenhouse, with the district planning to construct a fence to protect the greenhouse and garden while also shielding the garden from public view. Breese also said the district planned to supply topsoil and other needed materials.
"This decision was my call, and I would have never anticipated this escalating to this level," Superintendent Breese said. "I'm devastated that we are starting this year with noise that distracts us from our mission. We will, however, maintain high expectations for both student and staff behavior."
Jacobs offered a different perspective.
"The things Mr. Breese read, it would have been nice if that had been shared with me, because there's a lot of stuff in there that isn't quite straight-and-narrow," Jacobs told the board. "I keep being told that this was an inevitable outcome, the destroying of the butterfly garden. That I knew it was coming. That I was given the opportunity to move it. And yet all of this information came to my attention after (the butterfly garden) was killed. And therein lies my betrayal."
"I want nothing more than to teach my students in my classroom," Jacobs added.
A full house of students and colleagues spoke in support of Jacobs, with past students referring to Jacobs as "incredible," "top-notch," and "amazing."
Junior Hattie Blackwood, speaking during the public comment section, grew emotional as she spoke about how Jacobs worked with his students in the butterfly garden.
"Mr. Jacobs taught us many things during that time, like how to use garden tools and what was good and bad for the garden. He also informed us about the different kinds of plants that were in the garden. We spent hours working together in that garden," Blackwood told the board. "Us students of Mr. Jacobs worked for hours and hours on the butterfly garden. Every single day walking into school we would look at the natural garden. Now it lies as a pile of dirt. The students of USD 333 are heavily disappointed in the actions of the administrative staff of USD 333."
Blackwood presented the board with a petition she circulated in support of Jacobs with 180 signatures, along with a Google form with more than 50 responses about what he meant as a teacher to the current student body.
"You can try and look for another teacher to replace Mr. Jacobs but I believe you won't find many individuals that are as passionate about science, plants, and gardening as he is. Nor will you find someone who is as special as Mr. Jacobs because as us students say, 'he is the true gem of CHS and the school will not be the same without him,'" Blackwood concluded.
The vote to adopt a resolution to give notice of their intent to terminate Jacobs' employment with the district followed a 15-minute Executive Session for Non-Elected Personnel with Superintendent Breese.
The board also held a 45-minute Executive Session for Confidential Business Data with Superintendent Breese, Director of Operations and Technology Director Kelly Struebing, Concordia City Manager Amy Lange, and CloudCorp Executive Director Nicole Reed.