Most of us who arrived at the high school at 8 a.m. June 27 for the hearing of Mark Woodhead thought we’d be there for 3-4 hours.But three legal firms were involved.
The hearimg officer, attorney Tim Thompson, who conducted the hearing for the school board, was there to keep things objective. Thompson took no chances. He opened with a 35-minute statement about the procedure.
Fifteen hours later, Thompson got the last words in too – reading aloud a six-page statement of facts and determinations, which the school board then voted down, 4-2.
No one said Thompson didn’t do his job. He might have overdone it.
The superintendent’s two attorneys from the renowned Lincoln legal firm of Perry Law didn’t take any chances on being ill-prepared either. The past president of the Lincoln Bar Association Rex Schultze led the team.
Before testimoney got underway, Schultze and co-counsel Josh Schauer gave the board members bound notebooks with 53 exhibits -- mostly statements from the people involved or the witnesses, plus diagrams of the school’s floor plan and photos of the boy’s rug burns.
Nearly an hour was consumed with preparatory work and opening statements.
The audience and the board began to get restless around 9:30 a.m. Thankfully, someone on the board asked for a 15-minute recess at 9:45 a.m. and Thompson agreed, and everyone realized the hearing could take most of the day.
Several people left by noon because they couldn’t hear Woodhead’s soft-spoken folksy attorney Mark McGuire, another Lincolnite, who didn’t always remember to speak into the microphone.
At one point, a Woodhead family member asked me to signal the board, or Thompson, that we couldn’t hear, and we were sitting in the front row. It took a couple minutes for me to get Thompson’s attention, but finally he asked McGuire to speak up.
Several people left for lunch and did not return.
Often, people shuddered, if not from anxiety, from the temperature. The thermostat, which is controlled from the maintenance building, must have been set in the mid- to low-60s, ostensibly to compensate for the heat under the lights above the stage.
The next break came at 12:29 p.m. and lasted a little more than five minutes.
I went home when Thompson finally recessed for lunch around 2 p.m., and I put on long pants and another shirt.
Just before 3 p.m., the administration’s lawyers, Schultze and Schauer, rested their case.
By then, the most frequently heard conversation in the lobby was about the money spent on legal fees. Whether you supported Woodhead or Bassett, the long proceeding was a clear sign that the situation had evolved far beyond the norm and was costing the taxpayers a princely fee.
Schultze and Schauer presented a good case, clearly showing that Woodhead violated policy. They also showed that by rights, Principal George Schere should have notified Superintendent Marty Basset of the upheaval.
But then McGuire brought Schere up to testify. Speaking with energy and conviction, Schere expressed dismay at what happened. He said he was satisfied when Woodhead assured him it would never happen again.
Then, Woodhead took the stand and showed his composure. In a steady voice, he said he’d made a mistake not asking for more help, but he took action because it was needed.
The discomforts of the audience paled beside Woodhead’s, who waited months for a decision on which his career and reputation hinge. The wait was surely torturous.
The discomforts of the audience also paled beside the school board members -- volunteers in service to the schools -- who had to wait, watch and listen and make the toughest decision of anyone there, which they finally did, a minute or so before midnight.
Even though the board voted to retain Woodhead on the teaching staff, it’s possible that he won’t coach girls basketball anymore, which would be a loss for the community. Not only has he led the teams to winning records, he clearly has great determination in the face of a challenge.
This opinion was first published in the Bulletin's July 2 print edition.