MISSOULA — Jeff Snavely will remain as head coach of the Darby football team.
The Darby School board voted Thursday night via Zoom to discipline the seven-year coach rather than fire him. Board members will work with the school superintendent to finalize disciplinary measures that will include a letter of reprimand, suspension from games, mandatory racial sensitivity training and a likely component of addressing the student body and others.
The school district conducted an investigation after Snavely's social media post May 31 appeared to suggest Black Lives Matter protesters in Salt Lake City should be hanged.
Replying to an initial Facebook post in support of law enforcement, Snavely wrote, "they should all be strung up and hang in the public like the old days. Lot less of that sh*t would go on."
The post has since been deleted.
"I'm deeply regretful that I posted that," Snavely said during the Thursday meeting. "It could have been worded differently and none of this would have been an issue. That is my problem to bear.
"... I take full responsibility for my poor judgement posting a comment that resulted in criticism and embarrassment."
Darby School Board member Christina Harrell chaired Thursday's two-hour open discussion. More than a dozen citizens, including five from Billings, voiced their concerns. Many are or were educators and almost all were in agreement that Snavely should be fired.
"Your apology is null and void once you say, 'but,'" Heather Farmer said when the meeting was opened up for public comment. "This is exactly why I don't live there. The community stands behind him because he's a coach and he's done well before."
Harrell expressed disappointment that termination was not discussed more thoroughly at the meeting. But she also said Snavely's apology at the start of the meeting "really meant a lot to me."
"I've had quite a few nights when I haven't slept," she related.
"It's so much bigger than you and Darby school," she added, directing her comment toward Snavely. "It's bigger than the Darby community. I see comments about you. Comments about me. Comments about our community. The whole reason we're here is about Facebook comments. I feel that this is bigger than you and us and we need to take a look at how we're going to bring this together."
Snavely said he will learn from the experience.
"I believe I'm a good role model for these kids," he offered. "If you do give me a second chance this will be a learning lesson and something we will sit down and talk about as a coach. It makes you a humble person when something like this happens to you."
Snavely said he and his family have dealt with a lot, including harassment, since his social media post on May 31 was brought to the attention of the general public by media outlets. He insists he is not racist.
"I am truly sorry for my words," said the coach, who held back tears during his opening statement. "I can see how they can be construed into racism. I truly am not racist. I've played football in this valley with other races. I am sorry for the words I typed. I understand how they could be seen as racist."
Snavely is a seasonal employee with the Darby School District and has coached the football team since 2014. Darby Schools Superintendent Danny Johnston said Snavely only holds the football coaching position and is not otherwise employed by the school.
"The school absolutely does not support or is represented by anything that is said or was said by Mr. Snavely," Johnston said back on June 11. "He is our seasonal football coach, and we are looking into the incident, and we will deal with it appropriately in our measures.
"... We take things like this pretty seriously. We do not advocate that. He is not the voice of our school, and we take it very seriously."
School board members talked at length Thursday about an appropriate suspension. One suggestion was that Snavely be suspended for half the season. There was no mention of whether that would include practice and games or only games.
The decision on the length of his suspension will have a great impact on the football program and will be made when board members meet with the incoming superintendent.