BROWNING — In early October, Everett Armstrong was notified by Browning Public Schools superintendent that he was being removed from athletic duties and re-assigned to a new position.
The news came as a shock. “I was not given a verbal, I was not given a written letter, just straight to re-assignment,” he said.
According to Armstrong, the move was in a response to a series of reprimands over what he considered minor incidents. The first involved scheduling a required drug test for a pool of athletes. The second involved faulty sound system at a football game. The third involved a scheduling mishap with the volleyball team, where a location was not communicated to an opponent. And the fourth involved signing payslips for workers he mistakenly believed were in the payroll system after years of work in the district.
Armstrong doesn’t deny these things happened and accepts responsibility. But he claims he wasn’t given a chance to correct them and doesn’t believe they rose to the level of re-assignment, especially given his dedication to student athletes.
“I wanted to make a change here in Browning,” he said. “I believe I go above and beyond for these athletes to make sure they’re supported and taken care of. I love these students.”
The move hit several student athletes hard, as Armstrong had been a big presence in their lives and it happened in the middle of the season.
“He would pull you aside and ask you how your season is going and if everything is going good, and if anything was wrong he’d try to fix it,” said sophomore Jerel McEvers. “It was basically good having someone to listen to when no one else really did.”
“He was always there opening gyms for us, helping us and doing stuff and making sure we were on top of our grades,” said Browning senior Dustin Louis. “If we were having a bad day, we can talk to him, he was always there for us.”
His supporters have made their voices heard. Several students staged a walkout with signs of support for Armstrong. They created a petition for re-instatement which garnered more than 1,100 signatures.
“It’s meant a lot to have the support of the community,” Armstrong said.
But the district is standing firm. Browning Public School Policy 2130 gives superintendent Corrina the authority to re-assign employees at her discretion with advance notice to the school board.
The official minutes from the September 29th meeting reflect that she informed the board of her plan to take Armstrong’s position and split it into two new jobs - the Director of Student Activities and the Interim Director of Athletics.
“The purpose of this policy is to make decisions that are in the best interest of the students and staff,” Guardipee-Hall said.
Guardipee-Hall declined to give details regarding Armstrong’s transfer, citing employee privacy laws, but did confirm that he was still employed by the district as the Director of Student Activities and School Support Specialist.
When the issue was brought up at a recent school board meeting, chairman Brian Gallup ended discussion early as the comments from the public involved personnel issues. That move upset several students in attendance who were there to speak on Armstrong’s behalf.
“We felt defeated,” said junior Bella Drennen. “Especially because the school board works for the students, and it didn’t feel like that.”
Armstrong understands the relationship with administration and much of the school board is too damaged to be re-instated. Ultimately he just wants a chance to defend himself, and to be heard.
Armstrong, whose wife Rae is also a school board member, has been so far been denied a chance to speak to the board about the matter. His grievance asking for his case to be heard by the board was denied in a letter by chairman Gallup.
“That’s all I wanted from the beginning,” Armstrong said. “Hey there’s two sides of the story. Why can’t my side be heard. I was given no due process.”
The district acknowledges there is passion surrounding the re-assignment, and the policy might be unpopular. But Guardipee-Hall urges the public to channel their energy in a positive way.
“We were excited to see them come together for something,” she said. “And moving forward, I’d really like to see them come together and be kind to one another and make positive changes in our community and the Blackfeet reservation.”
She regrets that this issue has overshadowed the many positive things happening within the school system such as the brand new athletic facility at the high school and a new wellness program for staff.
“We’ll continue to work to keep our students and staff safe and to providing the best education possible for everybody. That’s the most important thing.”
It’s clear both Armstrong and the Browning school district want what’s best for students, they just don’t agree on how Armstrong’s re-assignment achieves that goal.
“Keeping the kids at the front in every decision,” Armstrong said. “That’s what I’ve always tried to do.”