Board member who criticized football player, coach faces call for his removal from office
A veteran Northern Ozaukee School Board member and father of an Ozaukee High football player faces accusations of cyberbullying and a call for his ouster after he posted a Facebook comment criticizing football coaches and the abilities of a player.
In his post, Tom Hoffmann, who has represented the Town of Saukville on the Fredonia school district’s board since 1993, criticized a coaching decision to stop throwing to his son Garrett after he caught two touchdown passes on Ozaukee’s 35-25 loss to defending Division 6 state champion St. Mary’s Springs on Sept. 2.
Hoffmann said in his post that the coaching strategy was altered to throw to Jared Zausch, who “couldn’t catch a cold in a blizzard.”
Jared’s father John, an assistant on Jim Lippe’s coaching staff, told the School Board Monday that Hoffmann’s comments criticizing his son were mean-spirited and amounted to cyberbullying. Zausch called on school officials to immediately remove Hoffmann from the board and ban him from all Ozaukee High athletic events.
“It’s unbelievable and beyond my comprehension,” Zausch said. “What Tom said was reprehensible, shocking and an embarrassment to the School Board.”
Hoffmann was not at the meeting.
Zausch’s comments, made during the public forum period of the board meeting, caught board members by surprise. Because the issue was not on the board agenda, no action could be taken, although Zausch’s call for Hoffmann’s ouster did spark discussion about whether the board should or could remove one of its members from an elected office.
“Is there nothing we can do?” board member Scott Szczerbinski asked. “How do we go about recalling him from office?”
Board president Paul Krause said Hoffmann’s Facebook post has created “a tough, ugly situation,” adding that it may be possible for the board to adopt a resolution censuring Hoffmann for making inappropriate comments on social media.
“Clearly Tom’s comments are not what this board or this district stand for,” Krause said.
But it is not the job of the School Board, he said, to remove elected officials from office.
“Removing someone from office is, ultimately, in the hands of the electors,” Krause said. “We don’t pick board members.
He also said Hoffmann has a right to express himself.
“The reality is, in this country everyone has the First Amendment right of free speech,” Krause said.
Although not at the meeting, Hoffmann said in an interview Tuesday he was not surprised by the firestorm caused by his Facebook posting, but said his comments were made in the heat of the moment after a disheartening loss.
“I apologize for any damaging perception that comes from this, but it was frustrating to see an opportunity against Springs slip away and I needed to vent a little,” he said.
Hoffmann said he has had ongoing issues with the football coaching staff, but now realizes it was unfair to put his son and teammate in the middle of the dispute.
“I get where they are coming from … but this is the world of sports,” he said.
Hoffmann said it was “unfortunate” that the students became part of the controversy, and worried that the fallout may take attention away from more important issues.
Hoffmann said he did not expect anyone to come to his defense, but questioned the results of any action the board may take.
“What would a recall accomplish? As a parent, I will still be vocal,” Hoffmann said.
The board directed Supt. Dave Karrels to research what options the board has in reprimanding Hoffmann.
Karrels was asked to report back to the board at its October meeting.
In an interview with Ozaukee Press, Lippe said the Hoffmann incident may prove to be a valuable teaching moment for his staff and players.
“As a coach, one thing we harp on over and over with our players is how important it is to be smart when using social media,” the coach said.
“We don’t want our players trash talking back and forth with rivals. My rule of thumb is if you can’t say something to a person’s face, you probably shouldn’t be saying it on social media.”
Lippe said part of the job as coach is facing criticism, but he said it is unacceptable when that is broadened to include players.
“I have a problem with any parent, especially a School Board member, posting that kind of comment online. It is beyond belief,” he said.
As for the St. Mary’s Springs loss, Lippe said he had to make a mid-game adjustment in his game plan after the opponent began double-teaming Hoffmann’s son.
Lippe said the team has the luxury of having several potent offensive weapons, including Jared Zausch and Garrett Hoffmann.
He said he planned to talk with the team about the Facebook criticism, adding there is “zero chance” Garrett Hoffmann would face any fallout from the incident.
Coincidentally, at this week’s meeting, the board gave first readings to a host of policy revisions prepared by the policy auditing company NEOLA.
Among those was a policy on duties and responsibilities of School Board members, explaining the risk that public comments made by individuals can be seen as the opinion of the entire board.
Such misunderstandings, the policy states, “may cause issues for the board as well as the district. Therefore, board members should, when writing or speaking on school matters on social media, to the media, legislators and other officials, make it clear that their views do not necessarily reflect the views of the board or of their colleagues on the board.”
The policy is already in place, but minor wording revisions are expected to be approved during the second reading at the next board meeting.