CLAY COUNTY — Former Kearney High School teacher and coach Bryant Hummel pleaded not guilty last week to misdemeanor sexual misconduct following accusations he exposed himself to two Kearney students last school year. As he entered the Clay County courthouse off of the Liberty Square, Hummel refused to comment to reporters who inquired about the charge against him and his being allowed to remain in the classroom for a period of time this school year. Hummel, a former math teacher and defensive line football and assistant girls wrestling coach, was charged earlier this fall after allegations circulated in the tight-knit Kearney community for months. District leaders were initially made aware of allegations involving a Kearney School District staff member and students in April. Allegations also circulated on social media. The name of the staff member was not released by the district, but social media allegations included reports of a high school teacher, who was also a coach, being escorted off school property by law enforcement this spring. The matter has been one point of contention in a tumultuous year for the school district. Controversy, criticism and protesting have come from a multitude of fronts including those against universal masking policies, Hummel’s remaining a teacher after allegations surfaced, former Superintendent Matthew Miller’s drunk driving charge while attending a state school administrator conference, a claim of racism that is now part of a federal civil rights investigation and punishment a student faced after running across the field during a football game. Tensions reached a fever pitch this September, the same day of a school board meeting and the charge against Hummel was announced. The start of the meeting was delayed as protesters refused to wear masks in school buildings along with several in the audience hurling insults toward school board members, some specifically calling out school board President Mark Kelly. One school district parent and father, Cole Mills, said he could not understand why the district would allow someone to remain a teacher and have involvement with students after an allegation like the one raised against Hummel. “You enable pedophiles,” Mills said. “You’re OK with yourself, you live with that? He was in that school building.” After that meeting, Mills spoke with the Courier-Tribune, saying it was the first board meeting he attended and was concerned after his child, a male student athlete, told him Hummel was allowed to keep teaching earlier this school year despite allegations against the teacher. Hummel was replaced as a high school coach this summer, but remained under teaching contract and allowed to return to a classroom setting this school year. According to Kelly, it was not in the same teaching capacity as in prior school years. In a previous interview, Kelly told the Courier-Tribune the internal investigation, standard for any allegations of possible wrongdoing, was unable to gather the same information as police obtained, hence Hummel’s allowance to remain a district educator for a period of time. Hummel has since been removed from the teaching staff listing on the school district’s website. “Generally, a teacher is put on administrative leave and then an investigation takes place to see if you can substantiate the allegations,” Kelly told the Courier-Tribune in September. “But, obviously, a school district doesn’t have the same rights or abilities to investigate that a police force does or sheriff’s department. So, we’re limited to what we are provided as we investigate that. Certainly, I can tell you that the police found more than what we were able to obtain.” According to the probable cause statement, the criminal investigation began in the spring after a school district administrator learned of accusations that Hummel exposed himself to two students and alerted police. The two students told investigators the incident happened after school when they were being assisted with homework in Hummel’s classroom. “Hummel did tell them if they told anyone, it would jeopardize their grades ...,” states the probable cause statement. The probable cause statement also alleges Hummel later video called the students while exposing himself and asked them to expose themselves to him. Hummel is also accused of asking the students to come to his residence when he was home alone. Hummel’s next court hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Nov. 22.