MORTON — Fifteen current and former marching band members and parents implored the Morton School Board on Tuesday to keep Jeff Neavor as the high school's marching band director despite allegations he engaged in an inappropriate relationship with another employee and placed the district in "legal risk." 

In a statement read by board President Tom Neeley, the board praised Neavor for building the marching band into a renowned program over the past 18 years but said Neavor earlier this year "admittedly engaged in an inappropriate personal relationship with a female employee over which he had supervisory responsibilities."

"He has also engaged in actions which the board believes have demonstrated poor judgment unfitting for someone who leads an important program in our school district," according to the statement, which was read at the board's Tuesday meeting.

Several parents acknowledged Neavor's indiscretion but said it didn't affect the marching band program or their trust in him.

"Even Jeff's failure taught my child a valuable lesson," one parent said.

The Morton Education Association has arbitration pending with the district over Neavor's removal. In a statement released after Tuesday's board meeting, MEA President Tony Feleccia said, "The Morton School District passed judgment on (Neavor) and unjustly demoted him based on nothing more than salacious gossip and rumors related to (Neavor's) marital status."

The district, in its statement, denied that Neavor's divorce was a factor.

The district said Neavor's jobs of band director, pep band director and band teacher were posted as open last week because Neavor's behavior violated board policy, reflected poorly on the band program and district, and placed the district at legal risk.

In a comment not in the statement, Neeley said Neavor was given an opportunity in August to resign effective at the end of the school year but declined to do so. If a new band director is hired, the statement said, Neavor will be assigned to a teaching position in another building in the district.

Most of those who spoke praised Neavor for creating not just one of the top marching bands in the country but also a loving band family, and for teaching valuable life lessons along with music and marching routines.

The meeting was moved to a larger room to accommodate the large crowd, estimated to be about 100. They rose several times to give a standing ovation to a speaker. None were in favor of Neavor's removal.

Erin Neavor, his daughter and a high school senior, said the marching band is a second family for her and she's the good person she is today because of the values instilled in her by her father.

A few speakers asked why Neavor wasn't fired if his actions were so serious and questioned why he would be reassigned to teach younger students if there were concerns about his influence on students. Erik Dalton's comments elicited the loudest and longest standing ovation.

"I don't think a public body should be the moral arbiter of a community," said the parent of a band member. "There's only one moral arbiter, and that's Jesus Christ. When asked to throw stones at a woman who had committed adultery, he declined, saying, 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.' No one threw a stone that day. I'm asking you not to throw your stones today."

The teachers union, in its statement, said the district's demotion was wrong.

"What's worse is (Neavor's) demotion came after he already accepted responsibility for his actions and was disciplined by the district for having a consensual relationship with a woman he supervised. The district's actions are not only entirely unacceptable (but) they come at the detriment of students, (Neavor) and the community as a whole."

Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.