Published Mar. 10, 2022
BY EMMA BROWN
Following violations of Carmel Unified School District’s mask policies and student outcry for the instructor to return to his classroom, 14-year Carmel High School math teacher Mike Deckelmann will remain on paid administrative leave until June when he will retire from three decades of teaching.
Though Deckelmann has been absent from the classroom for nearly two months, the circumstances surrounding his leave were initially subject to change. Originally placed on paid administrative leave Jan. 12, the teacher was sent a 79-page statement of charges from CUSD on Feb. 8. The document laid out the charges brought against Deckelmann, as well as the evidence gathered to support the claim and the reasons for the district’s decision to move forward with further disciplinary action.
Following negotiations with Deckelmann and his lawyer from California Teachers Association, CUSD ultimately agreed to allow the instructor to retire with full benefits in June, though he will remain out of the classroom for the remainder of the school year.
“I could continue to fight it but even if I did, I wouldn’t get what I wanted, which is to go back to the classroom this year,” Deckelmann says. “So I guess it’s all good.”
Despite an amicable resolution, the path toward Deckelmann’s retirement was not always clear. The mat teacher was sitting in the CHS weight training room during fifth period on Jan. 12 when he was told to report to the office, where he was met by district human resources officer Craig Chavez, who declined to comment on the specific situation due to confidentiality concerns.
“[Chavez] told me, ‘This is not disciplinary and you don’t need to record this and you don’t need union representation,’” alleges Deckelmann. “And then 15 minutes later he tells me I gotta leave. Just out of the blue, saying, ‘Well you’re on leave of absence now.’”
Prior to that meeting, Deckelmann met with CUSD superintendent Ted Knight regarding the teacher’s mask use, reportedly to try to reach an understanding with the administrator. In the days leading up to his leave, Deckelmann received a letter from the district notifying the teacher that administrators had been made aware of another instance in which his mask was down during class.
The math instructor maintains that he was unaware of a parent complaint made earlier in the school year, which alleged that Deckelmann did not enforce mask use among students and that he wore his mask on his chin to allow for quick access if someone walked into the classroom.
“It’s the district’s responsibility to communicate with someone so they can correct an error,” Chavez explains. “But at some point, if it’s not corrected, the district has to make a decision about its responsibility as the employer to protect the other individuals and has to make the decision to move forward with that suspension or dismissal.”
Prior to leaving campus Jan. 12, Deckelmann wrote a message to his students on his whiteboard, explaining why he would be absent from his seventh period AP Calculus BC class: “I am on administrative leave because I am accused of not wearing a mask in class. It may be permanent….”
As calculus students filed into Room 8, confusion and questions spread through the room and across campus as pictures were promptly posted to social media.
“It was bizarre,” says CHS senior LJ Parker, an AP Calculus BC student who was in Deckelmann’s seventh period and among the first to receive news of his leave. “None of us expected it. My immediate reaction was just to laugh because it was such a hyperbolic and silly response to someone not wearing their mask that I thought, ‘Oh, this is ridiculous.’”
Following Deckelmann’s leave, administrators visited the teacher’s classes to explain to students the reason for his absence, as well as the plan moving forward. In those discussions, administrators told students that it was Deckelmann’s choice whether to return to campus.
CHS administrators declined to comment further to The Sandpiper.
“That’s a total lie,” Deckelmann says of the message his students received from the CHS administration. “They told all the students that it was up to me, and they told teachers too, and that was a complete lie. It was such a lie that when I heard, I thought it was true. So I wrote the district and said, ‘Well, it sounds like it’s up to me, and I just wanna let you know I’ll be in tomorrow.’”
Shortly after Deckelmann’s leave from campus, senior Oliver Whittaker began the “Bring Back Mr. Deckelmann” petition, which, by last week, had approximately 550 signatures. The petition was shared among students, alumni and parents in the community, leading to a flood of praise for the teacher, as well as appeals to the administration asking for Deckelmann’s to return to the classroom.
“I made the petition because I felt like the decision wasn’t correctly made,” Whittaker explains. “They weren’t considering how it affected the students’ lives at the moment and in the future.”
For many students, the looming AP Calculus exams in May seem more daunting with the loss of their teacher.
“The calculus AP tests are some of the hardest tests, and [the administration] got rid of the one teacher who knows how to teach calculus and has been for years,” says junior Simona Matievsky, an AP Calculus AB student. “If they care about us passing and our scores, why are they firing the one person who can teach us?”
In Deckelmann’s absence, Brant Wilkinson, a teacher of 25 years, was hired to step in Jan. 31 as a long-term substitute for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year.
While many students have expressed disappointment and frustration over Deckelmann’s absence, some understand the administration’s decision.
“It’s wrong that he wasn’t wearing his mask properly or not at all because that’s something that all teachers are supposed to do,” says senior Nina Robertson, a Calculus BC student. “But by punishing him, they were also punishing us. Not wearing your mask is against the rules, and he broke the rules and there’s consequences for that, but maybe he could have just taught online instead of getting rid of a beloved teacher.”
As an adviser for the school’s Singer-Songwriters’ Club and a founding member of faculty music group The Bubba Pickens Band, Deckelmann was recognized around campus for his booming laugh and upbeat attitude. His colleagues remember his 14 years at CHS fondly and miss his presence.
“He’s a phenomenal teacher,” says Jason Maas-Baldwin, AP Environmental Science teacher and Bubba Pickens Band member. “He’s somebody who teaches by getting students interested in a topic. I can’t tell you how many students I’ve heard say, ‘I never enjoyed math class until I had Mr. Deckelmann as a teacher.’”
Though Mike Deckelmann remains absent from campus, the teacher wishes his students and colleagues well, both in math and in their futures.