Special Section: Safe Schools
RIALTO - Rialto Unified is moving to fire the Rialto High band teacher who had a fistfight with one of his students.
"Notice is hereby given that the Board of Education has determined to immediately suspend you without pay, effective Feb. 14, 2013," a letter sent to Jack Poster, dated Feb. 15, reads in part. The letter goes on to say the board "intends to dismiss you as a permanent certificated employee of the District" 30 days after Poster received the letter, on Feb. 19, unless the district receives a written request for a hearing.
Poster will appeal the decision, he said Tuesday.
"All teachers have the right to protect themselves from the assault of a student," Poster said. "And teachers shouldn't be terminated for it."
He's retained the San Bernardino law firm of Skipper, Singer & Assoc. to appeal the district's decision.
"It's ridiculous that an elderly teacher gets attacked by a student and the district doesn't defend the teacher," attorney Matt Singer said. "Their first inclination is to cut off his financial means and fire him. The student hit Mr. Poster, who's 63 years old, several times on the temple."
During the last week of school before the December break, Poster fought with a Rialto High junior in a midday session of his History of Rock and Roll class.
"I've had three or four students that I've habitually sent out of my classroom on classroom suspension every few days," Poster said Tuesday.
The students are unruly, shout and use profanity in the class, he said.
On Dec. 10, "he refused to leave, so I called security."
The boy had previously refused to report to administrators' offices after being sent out of the classroom, Poster said, so he headed to the door to make sure the boy was headed up the stairs to do so. There, he came face to face with the student, who had turned around to fire a few parting words at his teacher, Poster said.
"He continued to scream and yell." The junior shoved his teacher back with two hands, Poster said. "He raised his arm with a closed fist to hit me. I blocked him."
And Poster punched the boy back.
As a security guard ran toward the classroom, the student "took a defensive posture like he was going to fight me. I took a defensive posture."
During the time it took for the security guard to reach them, Poster estimated he was punched up to a dozen times by the boy. He said he did not throw additional punches after the first, though, contrary to how the security guard reportedly characterized the fight at Poster's disciplinary hearing.
"I do not deny the fact that I was screaming and yelling. I do not deny that I was fighting with the kid."
That class was the last Poster may ever teach. He was sent home later that day on paid administrative leave. Poster said he has "every intention" of filing a wrongful-termination suit if his appeal fails, but winning that might be of limited comfort:
"My reputation is so ruined now that I'll never teach again," he said.
Poster had planned to teach for eight more years, so that he'd have 25 years under his belt and qualify for a full pension.
"I'm too old to seek other employment," he said. "They could get three people for the price of one (of him). I believe that's a factor in this decision."
According to the Rialto High website, Poster has been a professional trumpet player for 48 years, and holds two bachelor's of music degrees, two master's of music degrees, a master of administration degree and a doctoral degree. He started teaching in the early 1990s as a second career, alongside his musical one, for which he still books performances.
"I really enjoyed (teaching). It was an expression of my professionalism through teaching and I could still perform on the side," he said.
The letter to Poster and his subsequent planned firing come just weeks before the Rialto High band is scheduled to fly 2,746 miles to New York City to participate in an invitational competition.
"They're not just punishing me - they're punishing a lot of students," he said. "My band is a superior band. They should be getting nothing less than a superior rating. Gold all the way."
There are more than 90 students in Rialto High's various bands and orchestras.
"I really think it's unfair of the district to do that to these students," mother Melissa Wagenhoffer said. "Yes, he should have been written up, yes, he should have been reprimanded, but termination is extreme."
Not every parent was upset about the decision.
"I think that sends out a message" to other Rialto Unified teachers, mother Angie Torres said. "We're not going to tolerate that kind of behavior in a school setting, from teachers or from any other adults, for that matter. We have to protect our children, no matter what."
The district would not comment on the matter Tuesday, citing privacy concerns.
"The district cannot provide any comment concerning this matter at this time, as it involves a confidential personnel matter," Rialto Unified spokeswoman Syeda Jafri said Tuesday. "Under California law, school district employees have rights to privacy and due process. The district will report publicly any actions that will be taken at the appropriate time, consistent with applicable law."
Poster still maintains he was in the right, although he believes by the time he's vindicated, it'll be too late for his career.
"Legally, I did nothing wrong. Morally, I did nothing wrong," Poster said. "That'll eventually come out in court, but it'll be too late by then."
Reach Beau at via email, call him at 909-483-9376, or find him on Twitter @InlandED.