Fox 59

Brown County superintendent recommends coach’s termination following blackface post

NASHVILLE, Ind. – The Superintendent of Brown County Schools dismissed a coach and substitute teacher Friday, recommending his termination after he posted a photo of himself in blackface online.

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

“It was a sincere disconnect and I’m so sorry that Brown County has been aligned with a post that was of this nature, and I just want the community to know that Brown County is a very, very special place and that one post does not speak to who we are as a community,” Hammack said.

Gist has been employed as an assistant track and football coach at the high school since February 2018. He was also a substitute teacher in all Brown County Schools, employed by third party vendor Kelly Services. Hammack said she had barred Gist from substitute teaching in the district pending his termination.

“We had an opportunity to meet with the employee, reviewed my concerns about what I observed, offered the employee the ability to respond to that situation. Based on the information that we received, we will be recommending termination,” Hammack said.

FOX59 spoke with Gist by phone Friday. He said that 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.

Gist also volunteer coaches little league in Brown County. Parks and Recreation Director Mark Shields said he was surprised by the post and situation.

“I can’t see there being any sort of racism or anything that he would portray. I think he’s been a really good guy and has really helped out our department in the past,” Shields said.

Some parents, though, told FOX59 they agreed with the Superintendent’s decision.

“You can’t be posting anything and everything, you’ve got to be very cautious of what you post. I mean, you’ve got to be hyper sensitive to others,” parent Jenise Bohbrink said.

The Brown County School Board will decide whether or not to terminate Gist at its next meeting in early February.

A spokesperson for Kelly Services sent FOX59 this statement:

“As a company that conducts business based on the highest standards of professionalism, including the appropriate respect for the privacy our employees and customers, and in accordance with employment regulations, we do not publicly discuss matters specific to an individual.

However, I can tell you that all KES substitute teachers undergo rigorous screening and background checks, and complete thorough orientation and training prior to being placed in front of students. In addition, state and district employment requirements are also followed.”