HIBBING — When science teacher Dan Gotz was placed on non-disciplinary, paid administrative leave in April for insulting students in the classroom, Hibbing High School officials told the Hibbing Daily Tribune they were unable to provide information on the complaint “due to data privacy laws.”
At the time, then Hibbing Schools Superintendent Brad Johnson — who has since retired early due to health issues — pointed to district procedure as the reason to remain quiet on the matter. Meanwhile, a growingly divided city of parents expressed their anger against or support for the teacher under a microscope on Facebook and Twitter. The news went viral and got picked up by state and national media outlets.
Earlier this week, newly-installed Hibbing Superintendent Rick Aldrich told the HDT in a phone interview that school officials kept mum after the district decided in July to suspend Gotz without pay between Sept. 4-17 based on the outcome of an investigation into the allegations against him, as the teacher had rights to challenge the decision. But he did not protest and returned to his teaching duties on Sept. 18, in time for the current school year.
“At the time of the board action, it had to be much more vague because more opportunity to grieve the decision,” Aldrich explained. “That opportunity has come and gone on Mr. Gotz’s part… This is definitely closed, unless new information were to come forward. The board action is final.”
This Friday, the HDT obtained a copy of the letter addressed to Gotz from Hibbing Public Schools on July 18, stating that “the District’s investigation substantiated concerns that you have numerous comments in the classroom that are wholly unacceptable. Further, you have provided inaccurate and misleading information when you were interviewed as part of the District's investigation even though you received and signed a data privacy notice advising you that providing any false or misleading information would be considered insubordination and would be grounds for disciplinary action, up to any including discharge.”
In the eight-page, partially redacted letter sent to the HDT from Aldrich’s office, the district addresses Gotz’s “inappropriate comments in the classroom” and the “false and misleading statements during [sic] interview.”
The district detailed how “recordings gathered in the course of the District’s investigation and reported in the media document numerous instances in which you have made inappropriate and unacceptable comments while delivering instruction.” The district provided six examples of Gotz’s recorded instances “in which you made mocking or disparaging comments to male students during instructional time.”
One example: “You said, ‘If you actually knew what you are talking about, I’d listen. But you don’t. You are clueless. But that’s not a surprise to anybody in the class.’” Another example: “You said, ‘Are you OK? Did you fall down and have a traumatic brain jury while you were trying to [inaudible]?’”
The recordings also documented “inappropriate comments,” specifically made to one male student, which took place in front of an entire classroom. Another documented an exchange “where you made inappropriate comments about women’s bodies and advised students to wear polarized sunglasses at the beach if they wanted to discreetly look at women’s bodies.”
In the letter, the district informed Gotz that his comments “reflect unacceptably poor professional judgement,” while his “conduct has caused the district a great deal of public embarrassment after an attorney representing some of your students went to the press with recorded statements you made in class. (WDIO News, the Duluth-based ABC affiliative, was the first media outlet to break the story on April 26 and it quickly went viral on a local level as snippets of the audio were released to the public in the days that followed.)
In addition to such comments, the district stated that Gotz “attempted to minimize the nature of your conduct by providing false and misleading comments in the course of the District’s investigation.” For example, he accused the media of altering his comments about African American women, saying his statements were “cut and pasted.” Later in the interview, he was called out for making “additional false and misleading statements in an attempt to defend your racially offensive comment.” Also, he found to provide false information related to one student.
“Your willingness to provide false or inaccurate information in an attempt to defend your objectively inappropriate comments establishes that you have not accepted full responsibility for your actions and that you are not able or willing to correct your behavior and move forward.”
The remaining section had been redacted before being sent to the HDT. The letter was signed by both Aldrich and Gotz on July 30.
Hundreds of Hibbings residents — including some of Gotz’s former students — took to social media this spring to show their support of their favorite teacher, or to express anger over his apparent comments to students. These back-and-forths online also sparked dialogues about reverse bullying of students against teachers, political correctness, “old school” teaching methods and generational gaps.
Meg Kane, a St. Paul-based education lawyer representing Hibbing families, had told CBS Minnesota at the time that she was “shocked” to hear the recordings and had penned a letter to Johnson asking him to remove Gotz from his teaching responsibilities. Kane wrote: “He routinely refers to students as idiots and dipsticks. This was pervasive, this was persistent.”
This week, the HDT reached out to Gotz’s lawyer, but he declined to comment.