Lawyer: ‘Vindicated’ ex-Garden Plain coach wants teaching job back

08/29/2013 6:24 PM

08/30/2013 7:31 AM

Todd Puetz, a successful Garden Plain High School football coach before a sex-sting case “destroyed his life,” wants to teach again in the Renwick school district, his lawyer said Thursday.

“He wants his job back, and he wants what he’s entitled to under the law, and that’s all,” said Lee Kinch, the lawyer representing Puetz in employment matters. Puetz had been a physical education teacher, coach and athletic director before the Renwick district chose not to renew his contract after the October 2011 sting.

In June, Puetz reached an agreement with prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of patronizing a prostitute. He had been facing a possible five-year prison sentence for a felony charge of electronic solicitation of a minor.

Puetz has been an “iconic figure” in his local community, Kinch said. In a town where high school football is king, Puetz was a 2007 All-Metro football coach of the year, and his team won the Class 3A title in 2007 with a 14-0 record. Garden Plain made the playoffs every season with him as coach.

His life changed nearly two years ago when police arrested him and six other men in a highly publicized case. Authorities described it as involving a detective who posed as a 15-year-old to snare suspects willing to buy sex with underage girls.

Kinch said Puetz has been “essentially vindicated.” This past April, a Sedgwick County jury found him not guilty of attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child and attempted criminal sodomy. The jury couldn’t reach a verdict on a third charge, electronic solicitation of a child under 16. Kinch said the deadlocked jury voted 11-1 in Puetz’s favor, for acquittal.

“What he pleaded guilty to (the misdemeanor count of patronizing a prostitute) has nothing to do with his teaching and coaching responsibilities. It did not involve anyone in that district,” Kinch said in a telephone interview Thursday after being contacted by an Eagle reporter.

There is no evidence that Puetz has done anything inappropriate with students or minors, Kinch said. He described Puetz as “an exemplary teacher and coach throughout his career, well-respected by his colleagues, and more importantly, well-respected by his students and the parents of his students.”

Speaking of the sting and its fallout, Kinch said, “This thing has destroyed his life. It has wrecked him financially and emotionally.”

Puetz, who is a husband and father, now works for a farmer, Kinch said. “He was raised on a farm, and he works on a farm.”

Puetz had been employed by the school district from 1996 to 2012.

After suspending Puetz, the Renwick district opted last year not to renew his contract. “We believe that that was the right decision,” Renwick superintendent Tracy Bourne said Thursday, declining to elaborate.

Now, Kinch said, “if they (the local school board) think that he is not fit to teach,” then the burden is on the district to show why his employment contract wasn’t renewed.

So far, the district has shown no indication it is willing to bring him back, Kinch said.

“There’s a lot of support in the community for Todd,” he said. “There are some in the district that don’t want him back in the classroom.”

Still, the “overwhelming consensus of credible opinion” is that he deserves his teaching job back, Kinch said.

As a tenured teacher in a public school system, Puetz is entitled to a due-process hearing and has requested it, Kinch said.

In Kansas, after a teacher has taught for three consecutive years and is offered a fourth contract, they attain tenured status. “It basically means they can’t be terminated unless the board shows good cause,” said Donna Whiteman, head attorney for the Kansas Association of School Boards.

An administrative law judge would serve as the hearing officer and would decide whether Puetz could be reinstated as a teacher. A decision on whether he could coach again would be up to the district administration, Kinch said.

The hearing had been delayed until after the criminal case was resolved, and now the hearing has been continued until the state determines whether it will act on Puetz’s teaching license, Kinch said. He said he has seen no sign that the state intends to suspend or revoke the license. “There has been no notice to us.”

Denise Kahler, spokeswoman for the Kansas State Department of Education, said that at this point no complaint has been filed against Puetz’s license, that the case involving Puetz remains under investigation by the state. That is all she can say about the case, she said.

Kahler provided a list of reasons that the state can use, in general, in suspending or revoking a license or in censuring a license-holder. Among the reasons are convictions for:

• a crime punishable as a felony
• a crime involving a minor
• a misdemeanor involving theft
• a misdemeanor involving drug-related conduct.

Other reasons that can be cited include: “commission or omission of any act that injures the health or welfare of a minor through physical or sexual abuse or exploitation” and engaging in sexual activity with a student.

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