Brown County Schools terminates coach who posted photo of himself in blackface

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BROWN COUNTY, Ind. – Brown County Schools has terminated a substitute teacher and coach who posted a photo of himself in blackface online.

The school district says it offered a plan to Richard Gist for him to return to his position as a substitute teacher and assistant football coach for the 2019-2020 school year, but he declined the offer.

This was the plan the district offered Gist:

  1. Resign as assistant track coach. In the belief that his presence would be a distraction, to provide a “cooling off” period for the next two steps to be completed.
  2. Participate in cultural competency training and
  3. Participate in online civility training both of which the district has pledged to implement for all BCS staff and lay coaches.

Gist said he refused the offer solely on the grounds that he would not submit a letter of resignation.

The photo in question, posted on coach Gist's Facebook page, was brought to Superintendent Dr. Laura Hammack's attention by a concerned community member.

FOX59 spoke with Gist by phone. During that conversation, he said he believed the photo had been taken out of context and that he was in costume with friends.

"In approximately 2008 or 2007, or thereabouts, on Halloween I dressed up as Bob Marley, a character that I admire who spreads love, peace, and hope, and I dressed up as this person out of respect for him and what he believes and not in the intent of offending anybody or insinuating that another race is superior to any other," Gist said.

Before his termination, the district says Gist and Dr. Hammack "participated in a conversation" where they discussed concerns and consequences along with a plan to repair harm to Mr. Gist, and the school district. In the end, an agreement was not made and Gist was fired.

During Thursday's school board meeting, Gist told the board he made an "error in judgement" posing in blackface and asked them to spare his job.

“I just ask that you the board give me an opportunity to prove to you that I am an asset of this county,” Gist said.

The district said this in press release sent to FOX59 on Thursday:

Brown County Schools (BCS) and its citizen board of trustees has a responsibility to educate students and the broader community on the issue at hand. As educators we are held to a higher standard, and that higher standard recognizes that as educators, whether we want to be or not, we are role models for our students. We are role models in our activities, not only in the classroom, but beyond the classroom door.

Therefore, we believe the offensive image Mr. Gist posted, as well the handling of his social media account and the ensuing conversation surrounding the image showed a distinct lack of discretion and good judgement by a role model.

As a school district it is incumbent upon us to protect that higher standard, because the safety and the future of our students depends on it.

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