Davis High School volleyball coach Julie Crawford retaliated against her leading critic, school board member Nancy Peterson, by cutting Peterson’s daughter Emma — a varsity player since she was a sophomore — from the girls roster last summer, a school district investigation concluded.
That retaliation was in violation of board policy, the investigator said, and it may be at the root of the district’s decision not to rehire Crawford as boys volleyball coach for the spring season.
Though the investigation was concluded in November, it wasn’t until Feb. 5, according to Crawford, that she was told her variable services agreement to coach the DHS boys would not be renewed. That was less than a week before tryouts were scheduled to begin.
Superintendent Winfred Roberson and Assistant Superintendent Matt Best have declined to state the reasons why Crawford’s VSA has not been renewed. In a statement released to the media Wednesday, they acknowledged “the angst that the players and parents in the boys volleyball program may feel” but added, “It is DJUSD’s legal and ethical practice to strictly maintain employee privacy and confidentiality in personnel matters.”
However, The Enterprise has obtained a letter from Best summarizing attorney Alex Sperry’s investigation and which describes the violation of board policy that may have cost Crawford her coaching job. She remains employed as a physical education teacher at Davis High School.
The investigation was triggered by a Sept. 3 complaint filed by longtime Blue Devil volunteer sports doctor Rob Peterson, Nancy’s husband and Emma’s father, after Emma was cut from the volleyball team. She had played for Crawford for three seasons — two on varsity and one on JV when she was moved up as a freshman — and had started nearly half of the team’s matches as a junior in 2012. Emma was the only returning player not to make the 2013 team.
Crawford’s decision to cut Emma came just two months after the coach was initially told in late June that her VSA to coach girls volleyball last fall would not be renewed. However, after an outcry from some community members in support of Crawford, further discussion by the board led to a 3-1 vote that reversed the decision and allowed Crawford to continue as coach.
Trustees Sheila Allen, Gina Daleiden and Susan Lovenburg voted in favor and Peterson dissented. Trustee Tim Taylor, who participated in most of the discussion via conference call, was not on the line when the question was called and did not vote.
Leading into that controversy last summer, Nancy Peterson had raised several oral complaints to the district administration about Crawford’s coaching decisions during the 2012-13 school year.
The girls volleyball roster was finalized — without Emma Peterson — on Aug. 15, at which time Rob Peterson asked to meet with Crawford and DHS Athletic Director Dennis Foster.
“When I showed up to the meeting I was surprised to find not only the coach and AD but the union rep as well as the principal,” Rob Peterson said, adding that the meeting was unproductive. ”At that point I filed a complaint about Emma (being cut).”
The complaint triggered the investigation, which was completed around Thanksgiving, when the findings were sent to the district. Sperry’s conclusion — which was detailed in a Dec. 17 letter from Best to Rob Peterson — was 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.”
The findings went on to say that “Crawford did not display core ethical values of trustworthiness, respect and responsibility set forth in the Athletic Handbook for Coaches.”
However, Crawford told The Enterprise she believed she would be the coach — up until last week. She said her VSA was signed by DHS Principal Will Brown and Foster and was submitted to the district office sometime in January. The VSA, however, wasn’t sent to the school board to be confirmed at the Jan. 23 meeting (along with the VSA for every other Blue Devil spring coach).
The 11th-hour removal of Crawford as coach forced the cancellation of the tryouts that were scheduled to begin Monday. Parents of boys volleyball players were notified by Brown that “we have yet to identify a coaching staff for the 2014 season” and “in the meantime, practices will be canceled until a coaching staff is identified.”
The volleyball season opener is scheduled for Feb. 28.
Rob Peterson told The Enterprise he has been pressing the district for information about Crawford’s status since December.
“At that point (after receiving Best’s Dec. 17 letter) I was advised that this is a personnel matter and it would be dealt with confidentially,” he said. “Two weeks later, after not hearing anything, I sent an email asking what was going on and got a meeting with Winfred Roberson (on Jan. 6). At that meeting I was led to understand that the complaint was being taken seriously.
“I still didn’t hear anything for a while and then, because my son was planning on playing boys volleyball, I looked at the website on (Feb. 7) to get the tryout times and Julie Crawford’s name was still listed as coach. So I called Winfred Roberson to ask what was going on and was told she was not going to be the coach.
“That was the desired outcome, but that was desired to come in December. Of course, it’s a disaster for that to happen (a few days) before tryouts.”
Brown and Foster had no comment or did not reply to emails from The Enterprise on Wednesday. Nor did Crawford, who was asked if she knew about the investigation.
— Reach Chris Saur at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8049. Follow him on Twitter at @CSaurDEsports