Firing of Highlands custodian causes turmoil at school

The dismissal of the long-time head custodian at Highlands Elementary has generated indignation in the school community, especially for the way it was carried out.

Highlands PTA President Krissie Wiggins said head custodian John Johnson, a 20-year district employee with 10 years at Highlands, was escorted out of the building the same day he was told his employment was terminated. Wiggins, who addressed the school board this week on behalf of the Highlands community, said the termination was connected to a shoulder injury Johnson suffered at work last year and consequent restrictions on his ability to do the job.

It was not just the firing, but “the insensitive manner in which he was dismissed” including the “sudden nature of being notified and asked to leave … and escorted out of the school building the same day,” that prompted the complaint. This “public display stripped him of his dignity,” Wiggins said. “We believe he deserved a proper farewell from our kids and community,” noting that Johnson knew every child and donated to causes at the school. “We think you should consider the community relationship a little more” and “consider some sensitivity to our community,” she said.

Johnson did not attend the meeting, but later said that he was injured last April working at Highlands. His medical bills were paid by Workers Compensation, he said, and he had surgery in July and was off for a few days. He said he had not otherwise missed a day of work since the injury and had no plans to retire or quit his job because of the injury.

Johnson was informed earlier in March, he said, that he would be terminated because his medical restrictions. He said he was told the position was “no longer sustainable.” Last December doctors had determined his shoulder impairment to be permanent. On March 29, he said, the district fired him and later that afternoon a supervisor came to the school and had him leave the building.

A few other Highlands parents and staff attended the board meeting, including Principal Marilyn Webb who said she “did not know” of the plan to remove Johnson, but said Wiggins’ description of events was accurate. Other staff members said the termination and its method had caused considerable turmoil at the school.

Board President Patty Mach told Wiggins, “as you know, we cannot speak to personnel issues.” No other board member or staff commented.