The former Chireno High School principal says he is taking legal action against the district after his abrupt firing last month, which came on the heels of the school board renewing his contract and a positive performance review.
Erik Thormaehlen was fired June 14 on a 7-0 vote by the Chireno ISD school board. He says the firing was unjust and is planning to file a lawsuit if his dismissal isn’t overturned.
“I’m appealing the decision and considering further action,” Thormaehlen said.
Chireno ISD has not responded to multiple emails for comment.
Thormaehlen asked the school board to discuss his employment situation in open session, which they refused, he said. He said he made an objection during the June 14 meeting as trustees retreated to closed session, which attorneys with the Freedom of Information Foundation say might be a breach of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Thormaehlen says his firing was spurred by a dispute with a former school board member and a teacher. But things get complicated. Thormaehlen readily admits that he was at President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, which online activists used to put pressure on the district, and he was arrested for driving while intoxicated May 28 in Friendswood.
Thormaehlen is being represented by an attorney for the Association of Texas Professional Educators in his appeal of the board’s decision and has contacted Etoile-based attorney Tanner Franklin about a possible lawsuit.
“We are in the process of investigating the claims,” Franklin said recently, noting that no suit has been filed.
Chireno ISD officials were contacted by The Daily Sentinel shortly after Thormaehlen’s firing. Superintendent Michael Skinner requested questions be emailed to him, but he has not responded as nearly a month has passed.
Thormaehlen was placed on administrative leave on May 11, and a letter announcing his suspension gives provides no explanation.
The suspension came just a little over a month after the Chireno ISD board unanimously approved extending his contract with the district.
“I think we’ve been an example of what the problems are in public education in all this,” he said.
Emails provided to The Daily Sentinel indicate Thormaehlen was in a dispute with assistant superintendent Brian King the Friday before he was suspended. Throughout the school year, Thormaehlen had been bringing two selected students per day a drink from Sonic. King wanted him to stop. Thormaehlen said he wouldn’t unless the school board intervened.
“We have days where students pay to wear hats, which is also against the rules. We do that for good reasons,” Thormaehlen wrote.
Sonic drink situation aside, Thormaehlen says district officials were looking for any excuse to get rid of him after he refused to go along with a school board member’s plan to fire a teacher.
“I wasn’t going along with it. Not for one second,” he said.
While suspended, the district’s focus appeared to turn to Thormaehlen’s involvement in the Trump rally in January, according to documents provided to the Sentinel.
Thormaehlen took district-approved vacation to attend the rally, which he posted about on social media. Those posts drew the ire of anti-Trump activists who encouraged people to call Chireno ISD and get Thormaehlen fired.
“I’m on antifa blogs all over the internet,” Thormaehlen said.
While suspended, Thormaehlen wasn’t allowed to be on the Chireno campus or attend any school events including graduation. So in late May, he drove to Friendswood, where he had previously taught to attend a party with some of his former colleagues.
At 2:24 a.m. May 28, he was stopped by Friendwood police who say “he exhibited signs of intoxication” and “failed a field sobriety test.”
Thormaehlen declined to discuss the arrest, citing his pending legal case.
“Nobody’s perfect but we are all innocent until proven guilty. That’s going to go where that’s going to go,” he said.
Texas Education Agency guidelines say an educator can be disciplined by the state and possibly have their teaching licenses revoked if they commit two or more crimes involving alcohol within a 12-month period.