Crowd packs school board meeting to protest firing of LHS basketball coach Mike Lewis

Lawrence High School basketball team members attend the Lawrence school board meeting Monday to show their support for basketball coach Mike Lewis, who was recently fired from his coaching position. The boys all gave speeches in Lewis’ favor. From left, they are Noah Hogan, Jackson Mallory, Ben Rajewski, Fred Brou, Kaustubh Nimkar (partially hidden), Anthony Harvey, Kyle Hoffman, Price Morgan.

Lawrence High boys basketball players Justin Roberts, middle, and John Barbee, right, congratulate teammate Anthony Bonner, left, after Bonner’s speech before the Lawrence school board on Monday, April 28, 2014. Members of the Lions team and their families were among hundreds who showed up to support LHS coach Mike Lewis, who was fired last week.

It was standing room only at the Lawrence school board meeting Monday night as hundreds of people packed into the board meeting room and the hallway outside to protest the recent firing of Lawrence High School men’s basketball coach Mike Lewis.

“We’re really, really devastated by the dismissal of coach Lewis,” said Toni Brou, whose three sons have been involved in basketball programs at Lawrence High. “And we’re alarmed at the brazenly insensitive context in which it happened two months after we lost a JV coach to cancer.”

Brou was referring to junior varsity coach Kermit Aldridge, who died March 8. Lewis, who remains a teacher at Southwest Middle School, was informed April 21 that his supplemental contract as the Lawrence High boys’ basketball coach was being terminated.

Other parents spoke passionately about Lewis, who coached the Lions for five seasons, finishing with a 17-5 record this year.

Several said they understood Lewis had received a favorable evaluation. But LHS officials have said Lewis was later re-evaluated, and it was then that Lewis says he was told, “Lawrence High School wanted to go in a different direction.”

Raegann Berger, an LHS graduate who now lives in the Free State High School attendance area, said she continued to send her sons to LHS summer basketball camps.

“The reason: Mike Lewis,” Berger said, adding, “I will no longer support my alma mater in any way.”

But the most impassioned comments came from LHS players themselves who stepped to the microphone one by one, stated their names and said: “I am a lion; coach Lewis is my coach; and I want him back.”

Lewis himself did not appear at the board meeting. And none of the administrators at Lawrence High who were responsible for the decision came to speak.

School board president Rick Ingram had said at the start of the hourlong discussion that the board would not answer questions and would not discuss personnel matters in public.

Afterward, he and other board members said that the board would decide at a later time whether to review the decision.

As a veteran teacher, Lewis is currently entitled under Kansas law to an administrative due process hearing before he could be fired from his teaching job. But officials from the Kansas National Education Association said that right, commonly known as tenure, does not extend to supplemental contracts for coaching.

“Sometimes issues that occur with a coach end up impacting his or her primary teaching position, which is covered by due process, at least as of this date” KNEA president Karen Godfrey said in an email last week.

However, the Kansas Legislature recently passed a bill repealing tenure rights for all Kansas teachers, which means that effective July 1, no teachers will have a right under statute to due process hearings before being fired.