WEST FARGO – A high school coach here who the district removed from the sidelines last year despite student and parent pleas to have him reinstated will return this winter as an assistant basketball coach for the district.
Jim Jonas, a world history teacher and longtime assistant football, basketball and track coach for the West Fargo Packers, was removed from coaching football and basketball on Nov. 8, 2013, after repeated complaints about his behavior and demeanor on the sidelines and in the classroom.
The decision prompted an outpouring of support for him from the district’s parents and students, who twice conducted sit-ins at West Fargo High School in hopes of having him reinstated.
Jonas met with district administrators earlier this week and will be allowed to sign a contract as the Packers’ boys varsity basketball assistant coach, district spokeswoman Heather Konschak said Wednesday.
His status as an assistant football coach in 2015 is still undetermined.
“We have to see how basketball goes first,” she said. “Then, Mr. Jonas will have the opportunity to meet with the administration again and they will decide what his status is for football.”
Jonas did not return calls seeking comment.
Last fall, days after he was notified he would not be allowed to return to coaching, Jonas issued a public apology but did not speak to the reasons for his removal. He then met with school administrators and a three-page formal letter of reprimand was placed in his file, along with an action plan for him to follow, in order to be eligible to return to coaching football and basketball.
At that time, Konschak said the district had not placed a timeline on when Jonas may be able to return to coaching.
Konschak said Wednesday that administrators had told Jonas he could return to his coaching duties “if he met particular parameters.” She said she didn’t know what the parameters were.
“He must have met those,” she said.
Jonas continued to serve as an assistant track coach last spring.
In last fall’s reprimand letter, officials said “it is important to state that there was no one specific or recent incident that contributed to this decision. Rather this action is due to a long pattern of behaviors well documented.”
The letter said more than 25 references in Jonas’ file recorded him losing his temper with students, making degrading remarks to students, name-calling, swearing, being disrespectful and being argumentative with administrators and game officials, adding that problems started the first year of his 23-year career.
Jonas did not coach basketball from 1995 to 2002 in the aftermath of an incident with an official at a Feb. 3, 1995, game in West Fargo.
Prior to the reprimand, the most recent coaching evaluation for Jonas by Athletics Director Curt Jones was for the 2012-13 boys basketball season. It showed a highly positive review and high scores in all areas.
About 125 students held a 90-minute sit-in protest in the high school commons after Jonas was removed as a football and basketball coach. The students attempted a second sit-in the following week.
Parents and community members filled the West Fargo School Board meeting that November – many of them donning shirts that read, “Justice for Jonas #FREEJONAS” – asking the board to reconsider.
The topic exploded on social media with the “Justice for Jonas” Facebook page garnering more than 3,500 likes. The page was co-created by Kathy Scully and her daughter. Scully is a close friend of Jonas and a parent of three children who each called Jonas coach or teacher while at West Fargo High School.
On Tuesday, when she posted that Jonas would be reinstated, the post quickly grabbed nearly 600 likes.
Scully said it was difficult to watch Jonas, “a very private man,” go through the public uncertainty of whether he would coach football or basketball again.
“It was a long time. It took a toll on him immensely. It took a toll on his wife and his family and, not being able to be back in with what he loves, was really hard to watch,” Scully said.
Jonas was public about his Packer pride and love of football, marrying his wife, Denise, in 2010 on the 50-yard-line of the West Fargo High School Field.
Denise Jonas was the principal of Liberty Middle School and is now the Cass County Career and Technical Education Consortium director.
“He doesn’t have any children, so these are his kids,” Scully said. “Yeah, he is [tough] sometimes, but in a good way. If you knew him, you’d love him. I’m not sure if the administration was trying to make an example of him or what.”
Konschak said after last year’s decision to not renew Jonas’ football and basketball coaching contracts, the district heard comments from the community who stood on “both sides” of the issue.
She said on Wednesday the district had not gotten calls from the community about Jonas’ reinstatement.
The varsity boys basketball season will begin in November.