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Helmut Schmidt, Published November 20 2013

STORIFY: District says West Fargo students won't be punished for sit-in supporting ousted coach

WEST FARGO – A sit-in to support former assistant football and basketball coach Jim Jonas at West Fargo High School drew about 125 students who chanted “We Want Jonas!” during third and fourth periods in the school’s commons Wednesday morning.

The school district also issued a short statement on Wednesday related to Jonas’ ouster as a coach, laying out how they are handling the case.

“A key piece of that process is communication with the affected employee; such communication may be given verbally or via written documents, and may or may not be placed within the employee’s personnel file. The district will err on the side of direct communication with the affected employee before communication with the public.

“To the highest degree possible, West Fargo Public Schools attempts to respect employee confidentiality whenever personnel decisions are made,” the statement said.

Pictures posted on Twitter show students packing lunch tables during the nearly 90-minute protest, taking videos with cellphones and posing for group photos.

“S/O (shout-out) to the students at WFHS who skipped class and started that Jonas chant #Respect #OnePack,” read one tweet.

“Couldn’t think of a better way to spend 3rd and 4th period #freejonas and #packerpride,” tweeted another student.

“Jonas obviously made an impact on multiple lives, let him continue his journey,” another tweeted.

High school administrators declined to talk about the protest, referring all questions to the district office.

Members of the news media were not allowed on campus, and were restricted to gathering information from the sidewalks around the school.

However, Katherine Savage, who is on the school’s newspaper staff, covered the event, providing photos and video to The Forum.

Packer reporter Claire DeJong provided The Forum with excerpts from interviews with fellow students.

“What happened to Jonas isn’t fair. He might not get the coaching back for basketball and football, but at least he knows that he has support for him with what happened,” senior Eliza Strouse told DeJong.

“I had him my first year in football and he was probably the toughest coach, but he helped me the most,” sophomore Alex Talley told DeJong. “I think they treat him poorly, and they shouldn’t have done that to him. I just want the (school) board to realize how much we love him and that he is part of this school and he needs to stay.”

District spokeswoman Heather Konschak said students at the protest were “calm and respectful throughout.”

She said the administration “just let the students do their thing. I don’t think we interfered in any way.”

Konschak said there will be no school or legal punishments tied to the sit-in, other than student absences in the classes missed will be counted.

Students who have too many absences from classes may face penalties for absenteeism that are laid out in the student handbook, she said.

Meanwhile, The Forum has requested from the school district any written documentation or complaints related to Jonas’ removal as a football and basketball coach.

Jonas, a world history teacher at the school, was told in a Nov. 8 letter that he would not be issued future contracts to coach football or basketball at West Fargo High School.

He was also told in that letter that he would have to follow a list of requirements, now being worked on by administrators, or he will not receive a contract to coach track and field.

Jonas released a brief statement Tuesday apologizing for the conduct that led to his dismissal from the two coaching posts, but he did not elaborate on what led to his ouster.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583