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SEE YOU IN COURT! - September 2018

CABE Journal

September 2018

The glory days for Nutmeg Knights Football were long gone, the last winning season having been in 2003.  But Coach Rock, the beleaguered long-time Knights coach, soldiered on.  Calls for change grew shriller, however, as the Knights dropped their first two games this fall by lopsided scores.  Mr. Superintendent decided that he had to do something.

The next day, Mr. Superintendent stopped by to chat with Coach Rock before practice, and he gently broached the subject of retirement.  “None of us is getting any younger, Coach.  Don’t you think that it is time for you to hang up your cleats?”

In the moment, Coach Rock was quiet, even contemplative.  “Despite my tough exterior,” he responded after a long pause, “I am a sensitive soul, and I am sick of the all the criticism.  If these Football Boosters think that they can do a better job with the meager talent here in Nutmeg, let them try.  I will resign.”

True to his word, Coach Rock sent Mr. Superintendent an email later that day, stating, “I hereby resign my employment as coach, effective soon.”  Mr. Superintendent promptly replied by email with a grateful acknowledgment, stating that he would bring Coach Rock’s resignation to the Board at its next meeting.

There are no secrets in Nutmeg, and somehow word of Coach Rock’s resignation was soon the topic of controversy.  A group of Nutmeg Knights alumni promptly started a Facebook page, “Winning Isn’t Everything,” which accused Mr. Superintendent of age discrimination against Coach Rock and demanded that Coach Rock withdraw what they now described as his “offer” to resign.  Coach Rock was touched by this show of support, and he called Mr. Superintendent to say that he had reconsidered and would continue on as coach of the Nutmeg Knights.

Mr. Superintendent was surprised and annoyed by this news, and he told Coach Rock that it was too late for equivocation.  “I have your resignation,” he replied curtly, “and the Board will be accepting it at its next meeting.”  But Coach Rock was not persuaded, and later that day, he sent Mr. Superintendent another email, stating “To avoid any misunderstanding, please be advised that I have withdrawn my resignation, and I look forward to coaching the Knights for many years to come.”

By the next Board meeting, battle lines were drawn, and a group of Knights football alumni were in attendance, many wearing their old jerseys.  During Public Comment, a number of former players gave testimonial to Coach Rock’s influence on their lives.  But others spoke in favor of Mr. Superintendent, and one speaker even used part of his three minutes to play a recording of “It’s Time to Say Goodbye.”

Eventually, the Board went on with its meeting, and it addressed the question of Coach Rock’s resignation when it reached the standing agenda item, Personnel Actions.  Mr. Chairperson started the discussion by noting that it was time for some new blood in the football program and that the Board should support its Superintendent.  Surprisingly, there was little discussion.  Mal Content moved to accept Coach Rock’s resignation, and the Board promptly and unanimously so voted.

Is Coach Rock done in Nutmeg?

*          *          *

Unless Coach Rock has a second change of heart, Mr. Superintendent and the Board are in for a fight.  This situation illustrates the need to be clear as to the authority of the Superintendent with regard to personnel actions, especially resignations.

The general rule is that the person or group with the power to appoint is authorized to accept resignations.  Apparently, the Nutmeg Board appoints coaches because Mr. Superintendent did not simply accept Coach Rock’s resignation.  Once Coach Rock withdrew his resignation before the Board accepted it, however, there was no outstanding offer for the Board to accept.  Accordingly, Coach Rock remains employed and the Nutmeg Board of Education is in a pickle.

The employment of coaches in Connecticut is regulated by statute, and given that Coach Rock withdrew his offer to resign, he has statutory rights.  Specifically, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-222e provides that, when a coach has served in the same capacity for three or more years, school districts that don’t want a coach to continue must inform such coach of such decision no later than ninety days after the completion of the sport season covered by the contract.  The statute further provides that the coach may appeal that decision to the board of education as the board may prescribe.  Boards of education are therefore well-advised to adopt such procedures before they face an appeal in a specific case. 

Mr. Superintendent could have notified Coach Rock at the end of the season that his coaching contract was terminated, and Coach Rock could have challenged that decision before the Board.  Otherwise, the statute permits immediate termination of the contract of a coach who has served for three or more years only for “(1) for reasons of moral misconduct, insubordination or a violation of the rules of the board of education, or (2) because a sport has been cancelled by the board of education.” 

This whole situation raises two points for consideration.  First, at the very least, boards of education should be sure to delegate to the superintendent of schools the right to accept any and all resignations.  Sometimes a proffered resignation is a gift from on high that the school district should accept promptly.  Once accepted, a resignation is binding.  Until it is accepted, however, an offer to resign may be withdrawn.

Second, boards of education and superintendents should review their understandings as to who can hire which staff members.  Under statute, the superintendent is the chief executive officer of the board of education, and except for teachers and administrators, he or she has the legal right to hire and fire and to accept resignations.  As to teachers and administrators, boards of education can delegate that authority to the superintendent.  It is advisable, therefore, for boards of education to adopt clear practices and policies to clarify which staff members the superintendent may hire without board action.

Finally, both Mr. Superintendent and Mr. Chairperson should be more careful about what they say.  Discrimination claims are built on inferences, and Mr. Superintendent’s asking Coach Rock about his retirement plans and Mr. Chairperson’s call for “new blood” can both be cited as evidence that their actions were based on discriminatory animus.  Under these facts, Nutmeg should be able to rebut any such inference by pointing to Coach Rock’s losing record.  However, avoiding such statements in the first instance is by far the better course.

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