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Court affirms non-renewal

WINDOM -- The Minnesota Court of Appeals Tuesday affirmed the decision made by the Windom Area School Board not to renew the coaching contract of former high school teacher Corey Christopher.

Christopher served as the boys varsity basketball coach at the Windom Area School (WAS) from 2002 through the 2008-2009 season, but a recommendation not to renew his annual coaching contract was approved by the school board at the May 11, 2009 board meeting.

In September 2009, Christopher filed a writ of certiorari, which is a formal request challenging a legal decision, alleging that the decision has been irregular or that an error of law has occurred.

In the opinion filed Tuesday, the appellate judges affirmed the school board's legal right not to renew the contract under Minnesota statute.

The opinion states Christopher was a part-time English teacher, activity director and coach at WAS, but in May 2009, the school superintendent Wayne Wormstadt recommended his coaching contract not be renewed.

A letter stating the reasons for the recommendation cited a lack of a clear, organized and linear boys basketball program for grades 7-12 and failure to communicate in a clear and effective manner in his role as the head coach.

"(Christopher) will be assigned grades 9 and 10 English for the 2009-10 school year. He will be returning to the classroom as a full-time teacher for the first time in seven years," the letter stated. "(The principal) and I believe it is with utmost important that Mr. Christopher give his full efforts to the classroom above coaching ... With the current state mandated testing in these grades and the fact that all students will pass through his classroom, we feel it is vital that all of (his) efforts are focused on the primary purpose of teaching English."

Christopher requested a hearing before a neutral officer, which was denied, the opinion states, but the school board did offer him the opportunity to appear at a meeting to respond to the reasons given for his non-renewal. Christopher sought to subpoena witnesses and cross-examine school board members, but those requests were denied on the basis the meeting was for Christopher to respond to the decision, not to conduct a contested hearing.

The meeting took place Aug. 4, 2009. Christopher called 16 witnesses to speak on his behalf and all spoke with regard to his coaching ability. A former principal and a paraprofessional gave favorable observations about his teaching ability.

Wormstadt also spoke at the meeting, allegedly talking about the deficiencies in the basketball program development in the grades leading up to high school, his failure to communicate with the lower grades and his yelling and swearing at an assistant coach in one instance. Wormstadt stated several families were considering having their children take online English classes rather than have Christopher teach them. He also listed two examples of Christopher's alleged poor classroom supervision.

Wormstadt did not answer questions, and at the end of the meeting the board voted unanimously to affirm its earlier decision.

The appellate court states in the opinion they rejected Christopher's claim that he had a right to have his case heard before a neutral officer, to "confront his accusers" or to subpoena witnesses.

"We reject this claim because under the plain meaning of the statutory language, (Christopher) had a one-year coaching contract which the school board had discretion to renew or decline the position as 'it saw fit,'" the opinion states, adding that the statute requires the school board to notify the coach of its decision in a timely manner, to provide him or her with reasons and to permit the person to respond at a school board meeting.

Citing an early appellate court ruling, the opinion states, "A board decision not to offer an employee coaching duties for a subsequent year does not constitute a termination."

Christopher resigned from all duties at WAS Sept. 4, 2009.