My Northern Wisconsin

Covering Ashland, Iron, Lincoln, Oneida, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor, and Vilas Counties







My Northern Wisconsin made an Open Records Request with the School District of Phillips to receive Justin Lindgren's personnel file on Thursday, April 20, 2023.  We asked for a status update on Thursday, April 27.  On Tuesday, May 2, we stated we would need to take further action if we did not get a reply by Thursday, May 4, 2023.  On May 4, 2023, Superintendent Rick Morgan replied that he contacted Justin Lindgren that day and Mr. Lindgren responded, in writing, that he would allow his records to be released.  We received Mr. Lindgren's personnel file on Friday, May 5, 2023.

Of the contents we received in the personnel file, we found Justin Lindgren's cover letter and resume when he applied for the band teacher position in 2011, along with numerous letters of recommendation from the previous school district he worked at in Ely, Minnesota.  There were reviews of Mr. Lindgren, as a teacher, all of which appeared good or excellent, from former Principal Colin Hoogland, who also provided some suggestions in his notes.  Acceptance of Mr. Lindgren's request for a sabbatical while he furthered his education at UW-Madison was also in his file.  There were contracts and contract renewals from 2011 to 2022 for positions such as the middle school and high school band teacher, middle school and high school band director, track co-head coach, and National Honor Society advisor.  There was documentation of certificates Mr. Lindgren received and commendations written to the school complimenting Mr. Lindgren as a band teacher when he traveled with the band outside of the school district.  We could not find any negative information or disciplinary action in his entire personnel file that we received.

The only document that cited Mr. Lindgren did anything that was not above board was a document provided to My Price County / My Northern Wisconsin by Mr. Lindgren that was not in his personnel file.

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The document was a letter written by Superintendent Morgan to Mr. Lindgren regarding "Nonrenewal of Teacher Contract" on March 20, 2023.

The letter asked him to take two unpaid days to consider resigning.  He would be allowed to finish out the 2022-2023 school year and receive some benefits, plus a letter of reference.  If Mr. Lindgren chose not to resign, the School District of Phillips planned to seek his immediate termination.

The full letter is as follows:


The letter was dated March 20, 2023, and there was a school board meeting that evening.  A group of community members came to that meeting wanting to show support for Mr. Lindgren, but the superintendent stated if the group was under the impression that the situation that was discussed on social media would be talked about that evening, they were misinformed.  He stated that the dismissal of a teacher would likely require a special meeting.

One parent expressed to us that a special meeting never occurred.  From the information we have received, we believe a special meeting did not need to occur because ultimately Mr. Lindgren was not terminated by the school board.  Instead, the school board accepted his resignation at the April 24, 2023 school board meeting even though Mr. Lindgren asked to rescind his resignation if the school board would renew his contract for 2023-2024.

In Mr. Lindgren's personnel file is the school-provided resignation paperwork, which he signed on March 22, 2023.  Mr. Lindgren stated he was under duress when he signed the resignation letter for a number of reasons.  One big reason was he knew there were important performances on the calendar, and he couldn't let his students down.  "Solo and ensemble, which we were hosting, was Friday, [March 24], and our Festival concert was the following Thursday, [March 30]."  Mr. Lindgren said he wanted to be there for his students.

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Concerned parents and other community members have told us information about Mr. Lindgren's band teacher position, including when it was posted in relation to when Mr. Lindgren resigned and if candidates have been interviewed, but we wanted to confirm that information with the school board.  We asked Jon Pesko, current president of the school board, if he could answer some questions, which are as follows:

Can you let us know any information about the resignation of Justin Lindgren?  What was the vote count to accept his resignation?

How does the school board determine that a teacher's contract will be renewed for the next school year?  Is it basically a given unless there is some pending disciplinary action?  What are the criteria for a renewal or non-renewal?

On what date was the band teacher job, that Justin now holds, posted?

Has anyone applied for the band teacher position yet?

Have candidates been interviewed for the position?  If so, when were they interviewed?

Mr. Pesko replied, "Questions on this matter will be reviewed by the superintendent and legal counsel."  We then sent the questions to the superintendent and Attorney Weld, but we have yet to receive a response.  UPDATE:  On May 11, 2023, Attorney Weld replied to the questions.  Click here to read the response.

Other school board members said they wanted to give us information but did not know what they could legally say regarding the topic and chose not to comment.  To help answer one of our questions, one person involved with the school explained that "if action isn't brought up by the administration, teachers are sent an intent to renew document every year."

We have given both Mr. Lindgren and his supporters and the School District of Phillips, including the Board of Education, equal opportunities to comment on this situation.  While the school district and school board do have certain legal obligations they must abide by, we feel there are questions they could have answered to help us better understand this situation but they chose not to give further comments or answer any additional questions at the time of this publication.  We will update the article if we get answers.  UPDATE (5/11/23):  Click here to read Attorney Weld's response.

Two women who are speaking up, looking for answers, and actively supporting Mr. Lindgren are Donna Calhoun and Michelle Sokolowski.  "I don’t normally stick my neck out like this," Michelle said, "but I'm aware of how much he means to his students.  Many parents have spoken about how their child opens up to him about difficult situations and he is really supportive, giving good advice, and helps them through it.  He takes the time to get to know them....This is going to cause depression and mistrust of school administrators among the students."

At the April 24, 2023 school board meeting, as we reported, community members spoke in support of Mr. Lindgren.  Shelly Kaster-Anday, the world languages teacher, was one person who spoke, sharing that on Thursday, April 13, 2023, the Phillips High School Band competed at the Wisconsin School Music Association Large Group Festival in Park Falls.  The band received some of the highest ratings it has received in the last twenty years.  A man who taught music for 40 years and was a judge at the event, Jeffrey Wenz, remarked to Mr. Lindgren's students, "You are under a director that knows what's happening.  Continue to closely follow his instruction."

At the same school board meeting, a community member stated that if Mr. Lindgren lost his job, people would protest on the school grounds.  The man was told the people would be asked to leave and arrested if they did not leave.  However, according to Chief Mike Hauschild, peaceful protests are allowed on public property.  All laws must be followed during the protest.  For example, entrances and exits cannot blocked, students must be allowed to move freely about the property, driveways cannot be blocked, etc..  If all laws are followed, peaceful protests are a protected right of American citizens.

Some community members have asked how they can show support of Mr. Lindgren, and one small way is a petition that Michelle started, which asks for Mr. Lindgren's reinstatement as a teacher, which can be signed at this link.

Beyond that, middle school students have started their own petition to keep Mr. Lindgren as their teacher.  There are over ten pages of signatures and comments, such as "Mr. Lindgren is the most helpful and hardworking teacher.  Everyone loves him," "Mr. Lindgren has always been a good teacher and we want him to stay," "He is so kind and respectful," "I won't do band without him," and "He is so nice and he would never be threating [sic, threatening]."

A high school student was also recommending his classmates e-mail the members of the school board, stating that if the school won't listen to the parents that they want to keep Mr. Lindgren as their teacher, maybe they will listen to the kids.

Currently, Mr. Lindgren will finish out his 11-year career at Phillips with the close of this school year.

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(This post was last modified: 05-12-2023, 09:14 PM by My Northern Wisconsin.)