Report: Neglect, not politics, led to anti-Trump comments in Brainerd yearbook

Mary Tuori

The Brainerd High School adviser who allowed anti-Trump messages into this year’s yearbook has now been suspended, according to the Brainerd Dispatch.

A portion of a private law firm’s investigation into how it happened has been made public and earned Joe Wagner a five-day suspension. It said Wagner didn’t force his own political views into the central Minnesota school’s yearbook, he just didn’t do the job of supervising what was in it.

Superintendent Laine Larson, in a letter to Wagner, said she considered firing the yearbook adviser but decided not to because he’s a long-term employee, has no history of problems, and has been remorseful.

In the yearbook, one student wrote she favored beheading Trump, another said Trump is “OK with rapists.”

That’s not typically school yearbook material, but the students apparently weren’t intending for their opinions to get into the yearbook.

Wagner’s job was to grade students who worked on the yearbook. He apparently acknowledged grading the student on the page with the anti-Trump quotes even though he didn’t review it. And none of the quotes were checked for accuracy anyway.

“Based on the weight of the evidence, the district concludes that you willfully neglected your duties and issued a grade without any legitimate basis,” Larson wrote.

Wagner did not require students to maintain or submit any record verifying the accuracy of quotes or polls used in the yearbook. He also did not require students to maintain or submit a record verifying they had obtained a student’s consent to using their quotes in the yearbook.

“During the investigation, at least one student stated that she did not know her information would be included in the yearbook,” Larson wrote.

The investigation revealed Wagner did not prepare appropriate lesson plans for the yearbook class and gave students too much discretion to determine what went in the yearbook, Larson wrote. He also did not give the class clear expectations for what content would be appropriate for the yearbook.

“Your willful neglect of your duties and your failure to exercise appropriate judgment have had serious consequences,” Larson wrote.

Wagner will be required to attend training on privacy issues.