After a car accident and an insurance dispute, the teacher in Soldotna fights against being fired

Matt Fischer has been an athletic coach at Skyview Middle School for more than two decades and sees himself as a reliable presence in the lives of his students.

“The kids know. I’ve never missed a single rep in my life,” Fischer said. “No matter how hard the training is, no matter how bad I feel. I won’t skip it.”

That is, until he was terminated by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in mid-December for “immortality” and “material non-compliance” with state or school laws. Fischer is now appealing the dismissal and has scheduled a hearing for the end of the month.

The incident dates back to 2015, when Fischer was hit head-on by another vehicle while driving home from work. His 12-year-old son was also in the car. After the accident, Fischer underwent multiple surgeries, including one for a fractured femur.

The surgeries and damage were covered by the other driver’s insurance policy, as well as Fischer’s secondary insurance. He said he notified the district by mail and email of that settlement after receiving it — about $300,000 from the other driver’s policy.

But according to court documents, the county said it never received that notice and instead paid for Fischer’s medical bills through its own insurance policy. Upon learning of the settlements, the district demanded that Fischer recover the amounts paid, approximately $164,000.

Fischer said he couldn’t pay back the money at the time and the district sued. Ultimately, the courts ruled that Fischer owed the county $164,000 plus interest.

“In the end, the court said I was wrong,” he said. “We wrote the check.”

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Then last summer, the district told Fischer that they would pay some of the expenses he owed, about $95,000, in exchange for him resigning from his teaching position.

At the time, Fischer said he would pay the full amount and brought a check to a preliminary hearing. But he says the district refused to accept the check – and a month later asked him to pack his bags because he was stealing money from the district.

Fischer has doubts as to why he was fired, in part because he was working as a teachers’ union negotiator at the time of the accident. He emailed the district to allege harassment after they requested his resignation, asking that the connection between his negotiations and his resignation be investigated.

“There is nothing related to my work in this civil lawsuit,” he said.

Fischer said he hadn’t heard a response from the district.

The district has gone through three superintendents since Fisher’s situation began, as well as three directors of human resources and a near-total turnover on the Board of Education.

Nate Crabtree, the district’s human resources director, was unable to answer specific questions about the nature or timing of Fischer’s termination. He said: “The district takes all personnel matters seriously and obeys the law. Because this situation is an ongoing litigation and confidential personnel matter, the district is unable to comment further.”

A full house of students and parents turned out for an education committee meeting earlier this month to show their support for Fischer and to demand that his termination be reversed. One of these students was Kate Cox.

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“The first day he wasn’t at school was very sad. Many people were in tears and upset that he was gone, including me. It was a big disruption for us to lose a teacher mid-year,” she said. “I hope you can reconsider and allow him to come back to school because he is irreplaceable.”

Students talked about how he inspired them to take an interest in athletics and how he showed up early to supervise basketball or workouts. Several parents also spoke out in favor of Fischer, many asking how the insurance dispute was related to his professional performance. Several commentators pointed to those of the District constant struggle to find teachers.

Fischer said hearing all of his students speak at the board meeting almost brought him to tears.

“It’s not just kids. These are kids I love. These are kids I would do anything for,” he said.

Fischer is appealing his termination and has opted for a public hearing before the Board of Education. He asked that the meeting be scheduled for a time when parents and students could attend, but the district rescheduled the hearing for Tuesday, January 31, at 1 p.m.

At the hearing, Fischer said he was not allowed to present new evidence or speak because it was only to be a review of the reasons for the termination. But he said he looked forward to the opportunity for a public discussion of his situation.

“You have to bring things to light. You can’t keep it in the dark. And that’s what happened with this whole thing,” he said.

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If the Board confirms his resignation, the case will be brought to arbitration. Fischer said the arbitration process could last until the summer.