After 10 years as a custodial manager at Wheatridge Middle School in Gardner, Paul Jones was fired on June 6. He is still waiting for an answer as to why.
"Everyone else is just as baffled as I am … The only thing that's in my file is three religious write-ups,” said Jones.
"When I asked questions, I got in trouble for asking questions ... I couldn't talk to nobody in the district,” he said.
41 Action News reached out the Gardner Edgerton School District regarding Jones’ termination. However, they wouldn’t comment, stating they would not discuss personnel issues.
Jones showed 41 Action News copies of his work reviews. He said new copies he was given of his reviews had new, negative comments. One read, "Paul tends to make decisions that are not his to make. He needs to ask permission whe [sic] something is in a gray area.”
Friends say it doesn’t add up.
"It felt like there may not be the right reasoning behind the dismissal or termination,” said Stacy Swopes, who had three kids in the school district while Jones was employed.
Jones appeared to be a popular fixture among teachers and staff. 41 Action News featured Jones in 2014 after he received fanfare online for his streak of wearing a different tie to work, one which lasted 401 consecutive school days. The former janitor also said he was up for an award for his work as recently as April.
The school board conducted a meeting Monday evening. Jones and his supporters were hoping to receive answers. However, the board was adamant it was a matter they could not discuss.
"For an employee that's been dismissed or terminated, it's kind of an open shot coming to the board knowing we can't respond,” said School Board President Rob Shippy during the public meeting.
“We're kinda held to some rules and laws that maybe not everybody understands that has maybe employment in the private sector,” he said.
Because Kansas is an "employment at will" state, the school district can dismiss any employee without cause as long as it’s not due to discriminatory reasons.
Jones, while having given up hope he will get his employment back with the district, hasn’t considered other employment opportunities yet. He also stated he may consider taking the matter to court. However, the toughest day for Jones will be the first day of school.
"I made a lot of bonds with kids that are here and their parents that are in Gardner. That's some of the ones I cried the most for when I got the letters because even some of the kids wrote me letters,” he said.
Josh Helmuth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org