Though no tangible action was taken on the reworking of the school district’s athletics policy — nor on the Julie Crawford appeal that brought the recent string of Davis High coaching hiring and firing issues back into the news — Thursday’s school board meeting offered Blue Devil coaches, members of the public and trustees the opportunity to comment on both matters.
More than 20 current and former DHS coaches — including Crawford — were among the crowd of 50-plus people who attended the meeting. The coaches came out because of the school board’s promise to discuss changes to the district’s administrative regulations concerning athletics.
The night opened with discussion about Crawford’s appeal. She says she was told earlier this month — less than a week before she was to begin tryouts for the upcoming boys volleyball season — that her variable services agreement to coach the boys would not be renewed.
Following a closed session Thursday, which was listed on the agenda as “Conference with legal counsel — existing litigation … Crawford/Peterson appeal procedures,” school board president Gina Daleiden began the open session with a statement explaining what they had talked about.
“Tonight in closed session, we gave direction to our legal counsel regarding the Crawford appeal,” Daleiden said, adding that the appeal will be heard in closed session.
“The question on appeal will be whether the administration’s conclusions are supported by a preponderance of evidence and whether the administrative remedy is appropriate to the conclusions.”
No date was given for the appeal hearing.
Crawford, the DHS boys and girls volleyball coach, is appealing an investigative finding that she violated board policy when she cut Emma Peterson from the girls team last fall.
A complaint was filed by Rob Peterson, Emma’s father and the husband of school board member Nancy Peterson, in September after his daughter — who had been a varsity player since she was a sophomore — was cut from the team before her senior season.
Earlier, Nancy Peterson had lodged several oral complaints about Crawford during the 2012-13 school year.
Following the official complaint, the district hired attorney Alex Sperry to investigate and he wrote in his findings that “more likely than not, Coach Crawford’s decision to cut Emma Peterson from the varsity volleyball team was influenced, at least in part, by Coach Crawford’s feelings about Nancy Peterson.”
He added that Crawford’s action was in violation of Board Policy 1312.1, which “prohibits retaliation against a complainant who brings an oral or written complaint against a district employee.”
At a school board meeting on Feb. 13 — with Nancy Peterson recusing herself from public comment, closed session and voting on the matter — the trustees voted to hear Crawford’s appeal.
Daleiden’s statement at the start of Thursday’s meeting explained that “the board is not involved in a complaint nor an investigation of a complaint until an appeal is requested. The board’s first entry point into the Crawford/Peterson matter was (Feb. 13) when we voted to hear the appeal.”
During public comment, Rob Peterson spoke about his frustration with “distortions and lies” in the media coverage and online comments made by the public about this issue. He became somewhat animated when talking about online references to his children, saying, “we’ve gone past harassment to craziness and I would appeal to the board to end this situation.”
In other public comment, club volleyball coach Rob Cole voiced his displeasure with the district’s “mismanagement” of his situation. Cole told The Enterprise last week that he had signed a contract with the district on the morning of Feb. 14 to take over as interim Blue Devils boys volleyball coach.
Six hours later, he says he got a call from Superintendent Winfred Roberson, saying the district was going in a different direction. Employees are not officially hired until the board votes to approve employment.
Ron Duer and Jordan Friend, who were set to be Crawford’s assistant coaches this springs, had their VSAs to take over as interim coaches confirmed along with several other new district employees at Thursday’s meeting.
The board spent more than 20 minutes discussing changes to the district’s athletics policy with Roberson and Assistant Superintendent Matt Best, who started the discussion by laying out the reasons for the updates to those documents:
“The goal (is) to increase transparency in our athletic policies and administrative regulations by clarifying expectations, which will allow us to clean up our procedures in athletics,” he said.
After this discussion, during which trustees recommended some changes in wording to several parts of the document and urged Best to meet with coaches again to get more input, the coaches themselves had a chance to make public comments.
Coaches turn out
DHS girls tennis coach Sally Hosley spoke first, and was followed by boys golf coach Karl Ronning. The veteran golf coach and math teacher at Davis High said he liked the athletics policy’s overall theme of what he called “an expectation of excellence.”
“But what I found missing from these expectations is what can we as coaches reasonably expect when we attain this excellence?” Ronning asked. “Who do we answer to? Is it the athletic director? Because one of the things that seems absent to me is the role of the athletic director in these controversies.
“Do we have a reasonable expectation that when there is a complaint … that we will be informed? Or are we going to find out about it second-hand? And it is this uncertainty … that I find very disturbing.”
Two other Blue Devil coaches spoke up during public comment, but it was the pure turnout of coaches in the audience that was designed to make the biggest statement.
The DHS coaches are keenly interested in the district’s reworking of its athletics policy after several of their brethren have either been ousted or stepped down amid controversy in the past three years.
In January 2011, Jeff Christian was fired in the middle of his sixth season as Blue Devil girls basketball coach following a dispute that caused him to remove two members of his team. Christian’s dismissal came after a district decision and a school board vote.
That spring, Amanda Ryan coached the DHS girls golf team into the postseason, but she learned she wouldn’t be rehired for a second season when she saw the golf coach job posted on the school district’s website.
Next, legendary Devil boys soccer coach Ashley Yudin — who was in attendance Thursday night — was planning on coaching his 20th campaign in the fall of 2012 before changing his mind and retiring a month before the season. At the time, he mentioned frustration with administration about the handling of the DHS soccer field as a big part of his decision.
Before the 2013 fall season, it was Steve Smyte ending his career as Blue Devil football coach earlier than planned following a June meeting about the direction of the program with Best and Davis High athletic director Dennis Foster.
That same week, Crawford was told she would not be back as Devil girls coach in the fall, a decision that was later reversed by a school board vote. Crawford coached the Davis girls into the playoffs last season while the investigation was underway.
More recently, Blue Devil boys basketball coach Dan Gonzalez stepped down for a few days in September — citing differences with the administration regarding the hiring of his program’s coaching staff — before changing his mind and coaching DHS this winter.
— Reach Chris Saur at [email protected] or 530-747-8049.