Changes to the way Roseburg Public Schools handles complaints of bullying and harassment will likely be recommended to the school board as a result of an independent investigation into a contentious situation that occurred on the high school volleyball team.
Superintendent Gerry Washburn said at Wednesday’s school board meeting that recommendations for policy changes are being worked on and will be discussed at either the Jan. 24 or Feb. 14 school board meeting.
The school board discussed the findings of the independent investigation in the executive session of the Dec. 13 school board meeting, which was not open to the public. It has since shared a summary report of that investigation with The News-Review.
Tim Keeley, a retired school administrator and University of Oregon professor of school law, conducted the investigation. The report also lists five recommended policy and procedure changes for the school board to consider.
The News-Review previously reported that six players chose to leave the team in late September over a homecoming issue, and that as a result, formal complaints were filed against head coach Danielle Haskett and assistant coach Kari Morrow.
Student-athletes and their parents alleged that “the coaches had harassed, bullied and verbally abused the six young women and that parental authority had been usurped by the varsity coaches,” Keeley reported.
During an executive session of the Oct. 11 school board meeting parent and students made their concerns known to the board and made it clear they were considering taking legal action.
Washburn said is hopeful litigation won’t occur as a result of the actions by the school district.
“I think the way the district has worked with the parents of the girls who left the team has met their needs,” HR Director Robert Freeman wrote in an email. “It’s time to put this to bed and move on.”
The parents and student-athletes involved declined to comment and Haskett did not respond to phone calls from The News-Review.
Keeley concluded that a team meeting occurred on Sept. 27, 2017, after rumors spread that some of the players did not want to go to a volleyball tournament in Bend the weekend of Oct. 7 because four of the girls were elected as members of the homecoming court. The homecoming football game and dance were held Oct. 6.
A team meeting was held and players asked to hold a “players only” meeting to discuss their options, which lasted for 10-15 minutes. When the coaches returned they required each member of the team to decide in front of their peers whether they were going to resign from the team, travel with the team to Bend or find their own transportation to the tournament, according to the report.
In the report, Keeley said one of the students asked for additional time to consult with her parent, but Haskett said ‘no’ and that the decision needed to be made immediately. Parents felt that the coaches were bullying the players when they required them to make immediate decisions regarding their status on the team, according to the report.
Keeley recommended the school district be careful to fully communicate to parents, guardians and athletes the tenets of the Bruce Brown Proactive Coaching philosophy, which encourages parents to distance themselves from sports programs and allow coaches to work with student-athletes without the involvement of parents.
“We understand how and why, during this volleyball program concern, students believed that they were not to communicate volleyball conflict to their parents,” Keeley wrote. “When concerns arise, it is generally appropriate for the (athletic directors) to require parent/guardians to work through coaches on philosophies and playing time concerns, but matters of illegal discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying, etc., need to be recognized as serious charges and must be dealt with sensitivity, carefully, and legally, even when doing so slows down the response time to complainants. It’s far better to have an accurate and legal response rather than a quick one.”
Two days after the contentious meeting, the student-athletes who resigned met with Superintendent Gerry Washburn and made it clear that they wanted to be reinstated to the team and that they wanted the coaches suspended while the school district would conduct an internal investigation. During a following meeting on Oct. 4, 2017, the superintendent made it clear that the girls would not be reinstated and that the coaches would continue running the varsity program, according to the report.
That same day “the six team members and some of their parents/guardians filed two written complaints against the coaches,” Keeley reported.
Keeley found that the only violation in district policy came when Washburn met to discuss the concerns from the families and students prior to the completion of high school principal Jill Weber’s investigation. This was in violation of public complaints policy KL-AR, which require the superintendent not to be involved until all prior internal investigations are concluded.
Keeley recommended that in future disputes the superintendent delay his involvement. And when a superintendent or other administrator concludes that there is a potential perception of bias or conflict of interest that an independent investigator may be appointed.
Allegations were made that the internal investigation was biased, because of the prior relationship between the athletic director, Weber and Haskett. RHS Athletic Director Russ Bolin and Weber each had daughters who competed on the varsity team in the past three years under coach Haskett.
“In this case, the district should have considered an independent investigator to look into the charges because families perceived that the principal and athletic director would not be objective,” Keeley reported. “An independent investigation would also have avoided due process concerns in any related personnel action.”
Keeley also recommended the board consider a “progression of communication” for when problems arise.
However, in the Athletic Policy and Parent/Coach Communication pamphlet a communication process is already lined out. Under the current rules the athlete is asked to talk to the coach first, after that parents can talk to the coach. If the problem is not solved at this time all parties will meet with the athletic director, before going to the principal. If the problem is still not resolved, parents may choose to speak to the superintendent.
A recommendation was also made to contact parents of students within 24 hours when major conflicts occur in school district programs.
Charles Lee, board chair of the Roseburg Public Schools, wrote in a Dec. 15 statement that he expected the board will focus on finding a way to identify perceived bias, reaching out to parents, keeping the superintendent removed from the situation and clarify the relationship and communication between coach and student-athlete.
Keeley conducted the investigation using documentation provided to him by Freeman, including the complaints, applicable policies and administrative rules. He also interviewed the six student-athletes, high school principal, athletic director, Uniserv consultant, high school athletic trainer, a senior volleyball player who stayed on the team and the superintendent.