Palatka High School students rallied this week to support a teacher suspended for fighting a district employee he suspected of having an affair with his wife.
The fight left the teacher with a cut and bloodied right hand and left the employee with a swollen nose and bruised forehead, left eyebrow and cheek, according to a Putnam County Sheriff’s Office report.
Kenneth “Sonny” B. Brewer, PHS welding teacher, was suspended without pay Jan. 30, the day after the fight.
About a dozen of his students attended Tuesday’s school board meeting to express support for their teacher.
They left after five minutes because the board agreed to Brewer’s request to delay discussing his suspension until its next meeting, Feb. 18.
“That was a waste of time,” one boy muttered as he left the meeting room at 200 S. Seventh St., Palatka.
The boys, some wearing PHS-labeled shirts, returned to their cars in the same parking lot where days earlier Brewer told police he lost his temper in a confrontation with district maintenance supervisor John M. Chastain, according to a Putnam County Sheriff’s Office report.
Brewer, 47, had planned to meet his wife in St. Augustine for breakfast Jan. 29 when he saw Chastain driving along Highway 17 after a meeting in East Palatka, according to the report.
The men drove to the school district building parking lot. Brewer approached Chastain, 52, with an envelope holding four months’ worth of the maintenance employee’s phone records. Brewer later told a sheriff’s deputy Chastain was harassing his wife, according to the report.
Brewer punched Chastain in the face, causing Chastain to fall backward onto his work-issued vehicle. Brewer continued striking Chastain while he laid on the front of the vehicle, according to the report.
After a sheriff’s deputy arrived in response to a 911 call, Chastain refused to press criminal charges. That same day, Chastain and Brewer’s wife filed for restraining orders against Brewer, according to county court records.
Brewer was suspended the next day.
After Brewer’s suspension, word spread that some students planned to attend Tuesday’s board meeting to support the welding teacher.
The superintendent of the Putnam County School District, Phyllis Criswell, met with the students before the meeting to address rumors, she said in an interview.
“Certainly they love their welding teacher and they came to show support for him, which is admirable,” Criswell said. “I’m proud that they did that. But certainly this is a school board matter, a personnel issue, and the school board has to make the decisions about what will happen from here forward.”
Criswell said she’s disappointed Brewer didn’t come to the board instead of taking the issue into his own hands.
“People are people — they have emotions; emotions run high,” she said. “But it’s not a good example for our students.”
Brewer posted an apology to his Facebook page Monday, four days after the fight.
“I hurt so many, and for this I can not forgive myself,” he wrote. “I will not rest until I fix my family and the families of others I tore apart. To my boys at school, you deserve better, if I am ever allowed to return to the class I will devote myself to your needs.”