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A school bus full of student athletes prepares to pull away from Burns Junior-Senior High School Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, in Burns. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Laramie County School District 2 Board of Trustees was right to fire a former Burns Junior-Senior High School teacher who got into a physical argument with his teen daughter on school grounds in March 2018.

The fact that Marvin Mirich is related to the student he fought with, the court found, did not excuse his violation of the district’s conduct policies.

“Mr. Mirich points to no evidence of a teacher-parent exception,” read the opinion written by Justice Lynne Boomgaarden.

“The case speaks for itself, and we’re pleased with the decision,” LCSD2 Superintendent Jon Abrams, who called for Mirich’s dismissal after learning about the incident, said Friday morning. Abrams declined to comment any further on the matter.

Security footage led to teacher’s dismissal

The Supreme Court’s opinion is the final ruling in a case that used security footage of the March 9, 2018, incident as evidence of Mirich’s aggressive behavior toward his daughter – actions he did not dispute, but rather said were part of a private parenting moment and not reflective of his teaching abilities.

According to court documents, which simply refer to Mirich’s daughter as JM, early that morning, Mirich and his daughter had exchanged heated words about her performance at track practice the night before. Later that morning, Mirich found JM working in another teacher’s classroom and asked to speak with her in the hallway.

There, Mirich “looked down on her, pointed his finger in her face, and continually maneuvered himself in front of her,” at which point JM started to walk away. According to court documents, “As JM walked away, Mr. Mirich reached out, grabbed JM by the hood of her sweatshirt and pulled her backward. JM fell to the ground on her back side. Mr. Mirich stood over her, still pointing, and did not help her up.”

Later in the day, a group of students alerted another teacher that they overheard “yelling and profanity” coming from an empty classroom where Mirich was talking with his daughter privately. Staff alerted district leadership, and after watching the video, Abrams suspended Mirich with pay and opened an investigation.

The next month, the school board recommended Mirich’s dismissal, saying his conduct violated the district’s harassment, intimidation and bullying policy, its professional ethics policy, and the professional conduct guide of the Wyoming Professional Teaching Standards Board.

In late 2018, Mirich contested his dismissal during a hearing with the third-party Office of Administrative Hearings, which upheld the school board’s decision.

Soon after, Mirich submitted a petition for judicial review, stating that the incident in question was unrelated to his “ability and fitness to teach and discharge his duties as a teacher.” According to previous Wyoming Tribune Eagle reporting, Mirich also said the district failed to cite a specific policy he violated by “disciplining his own child at school,” and claimed LCSD2 “intentionally and maliciously” denied him a fair hearing.

His request for review eventually landed under the jurisdiction of the state Supreme Court, which issued its opinion Thursday.

LCSD2 defines harassment, intimidation and bullying as “any intentional gesture or any intentional written, verbal or physical act that a reasonable person under the circumstances should know will have the effect of” physically or emotionally harming a student, interfering with school operations, or creating a threatening or abusive learning environment.

Court: “Substantial evidence” justifies firing

Casting the incident as a parenting choice didn’t “mitigate or somehow change Mirich’s responsibilities as a teacher,” Superintendent Abrams testified to the court.

“He acted in an unprofessional way. He broke one of the cardinal rules of how you treat students,” Abrams said. “You don’t get to grab a student and throw them on the floor. You don’t get to get in their face and use profanity. You don’t get to intimidate and bully them. You don’t get to disrupt the classroom environment. And you don’t get to use foul language, even if everybody says it’s OK.”

The high court agreed, concluding that “the (school) board had before it substantial evidence of ‘any other good or just cause relating to the educational process,’ to justify its decision dismissing Mr. Mirich.”

Mirich also alleged that he did not receive an expected bonus and extra-duty pay during his paid suspension. But the court, which characterized the grievance as “too little, too late,” declined to review that aspect of the case because Mirich did not raise the issue during his administrative hearing.

For some time after his dismissal from LCSD2, Mirich was employed as a substitute teacher with LCSD1 in Cheyenne. But according to John Weigel, superintendent of human resources for LCSD1, Mirich has not worked as a substitute for the district since May of 2019, and is currently listed as an inactive employee.

Neither of the attorneys who litigated the case – Jason Tangeman, who represented Mirich, or Scott Kolpitcke, who represented LCSD2 – responded to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s requests for comment by press time Friday.

Kathryn Palmer is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at kpalmer@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynbpalmer.

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