Parents and teachers protested outside the Hazelwood School District Tuesday night, in a show of support for a school official they feel was treated unfairly.

They were there to support John Pukala, the Hazelwood Central High School Activities Director.

Pukala’s attorney, John Lynch, said his client was recently offered a new contract that equaled a demotion – tens of thousands of dollars less in annual salary, and a new role as a gym teacher.
Lynch said Pukala had been with the school for about 28 years, and was just a few years away from retirement.

Pukala believes this change to his job is an act of retaliation by the district against him. Pukala recently alerted the district that one of his colleagues allegedly committed a crime, according to his attorney.

The Hazelwood School District released the following statement in regards to Pukala's situation:

The Board understands that Mr. Pukala has support within his school from current and former students, as well as staff. Unfortunately, because it is a personnel issue, the District cannot discuss the reasons for the decision regarding Mr. Pukala, nor can the District correct misinformation that is being shared with staff and students and being repeated by the media. While this is frustrating to the Board and Administration, it will maintain its policy of confidentiality as it pertains to personnel matters.

Tuesday night, dozens of people came to the Hazelwood Board of Education meeting planning to address district officials.

However, the meeting rules did not allow them to speak during public comment, because their comments were not about an issue on the evening’s agenda. Instead, several held signs in support of Pukala and explained their message to reporters before and after the meeting.

“This is unacceptable, Pukala is a class act. He should hot have been removed from his job for doing the right thing, “ said Cheryl Heppermann, a former teacher in the district. “I think the [the district] got the message. Whether they’ll do anything about it, I don’t know.”

“He helped me with my college decision and everything,” added Hazelwood Central senior, Edward Bectom. “He has had a big impact on me, to become the man I am today.”

Pukala’s attorney said his client hasn’t accepted or denied the contract offered to him yet. When asked if they plan to seek legal action, Lynch said at this time they plan to exhaust all administrative remedies first.