$1.8 million settlement with coach Kennedy approved

The Bremerton School District board unanimously accepted a nearly $1.8 million settlement March 16 with former football coach Joe Kennedy, who is expected to resume off-season activity with the team this spring.

The settlement further clears the path for Kennedy to return to his duties as an assistant football coach this fall for the first time since his contract was not renewed in 2016. The district said on its website that Kennedy has completed the necessary human resources, with paperwork and results of his fingerprinting and background check pending as of March 17. He will also need to complete all WIAA-required training.

“Mr. Kennedy will be an assistant football coach for Bremerton High School for the 2023 season,” a statement said. “As with any other assistant coach, Mr. Kennedy will be included in coaching staff communication and meetings, spring football practice and other off-season football activities.”

A few members of the public took to the podium during the board meeting to express both their excitement about Kennedy’s return and their distaste for the district’s treatment of the coach.

“It’s nice to see that Mr. Kennedy is finally getting his settlement after the school board denied him his constitutional rights,” said Mary Lou Long.

“This was obviously an infringement upon the coach’s right to pray in private, to silently have his prayer,” added Mike Simpson, “and it is shocking that any of our elected officials who swear to uphold the constitution would not do so, would fail to do so.”

The board was also asked how it intends to pay the large settlement and if it will affect future district operations.

“Is it paid out of insurance? Is it paid out of the budget? You have a finance guy here, so I’d be very interested to know how this $1.775 million settlement will be paid,” said Roy Runyon.

The school board did not address in the meeting how the settlement would be paid, but an update the following day on the district’s website said the amount will be paid in “interest-free installments over three fiscal years.”

Additionally, the board continued to defend the district’s actions against Kennedy in their statement.

“The Bremerton School District’s priorities have always been protecting the rights and safety of students while ensuring that all students receive an exemplary education,” the board said. “That’s why, when we learned that a district employee was leading students in prayer, we followed the law and acted to protect the religious freedom of all students and their families.”