Monday, February 4, 2008

Tell Me This is Not Happening

Michelle Stiles, a volunteer girls basketball coach at McKinley High School in Buffalo, NY, was dismissed because of unproven suspicions that she was having sexual relationships with one of her players. The school district superintendent admitted that he had no proof to back up the allegations and no formal investigation was ever conducted. Moreover, Stiles was never formally charged with a crime, even though sex with a minor is a criminal offense. Players on the team and their parents were never notified by the school about any allegations against Stiles. In fact, the players and parents support Stiles and are mystified by the charges. Stiles, who says she is not a lesbian, denies the allegations and is rightfully concerned about how the sex allegations and dismissal will affect her reputation.

It gets uglier. Jayvonna Kincannon, a captain of the basketball and soccer teams and, by all accounts, an excellent student, along with several of her teammates, was upset by Stiles’ dismissal. She used her cell phone during the school day, a violation of school rules, to try to get on the agenda for the school board meeting so the players could express their support for Stiles. The principal gave four of the girls “pending” suspensions for this breach of school rules. Jayvonna was suspended for five days and kicked off the basketball team. When she returned to school, an administrator told her she would be suspended for an additional six weeks; a penalty that violates state law because she was being punished twice for the same “offense.” Not to mention that a six week suspension for using a cell phone in school doesn’t seem quite fair. It seems more likely that Jayvonna was really punished for trying to speak up in defense of her coach.

So, Jayvonna not only cannot play ball, she has fallen behind in all of her school work because teachers have failed to provide her with the work she needed to keep up with what her classmates were doing during her suspension. She served five weeks of her suspension before school officials apparently figured out they were on shaky legal ground with their punishment.

It gets uglier still. Jayvonna was allowed back in school on the condition that she write a letter of apology to the school principal. Say what? It seems to me that the school owes Jayvonna the apology. Jayvonna and her grandmother and guardian agreed to this so that she could get back to school. The school administrators insisted on this little bit of hypocrisy, it seems, to try to save face, but they end up looking more defensive and incompetent.

The final twist to this sordid story is that the boys basketball, track and assistant football coach, James Daye, apparently had it in for Stiles. Stiles had questioned why Daye was spending time at the home of one of her players. She let the matter drop when she was assured that he was there to visit an adult cousin. Daye, according to the press reports, did not let the matter drop. Members of the girls’ basketball team claim that Daye has tried to intimidate them in school and has “warned” them that Stiles is a lesbian. Daye denies any part in Stiles’ dismissal.
The superintendent was quoted in a press conference, “Sometimes there are mistakes that are made. Sometimes we may not make the right decision.” Even using the third person weasel out, this is about the only thing school officials got right, it seems to me.

This story follows another one in a Missouri high school where six girls on the basketball team accused their male coach of sexual misconduct. In that case, school officials dismissed the charges without even talking to the young women who filed the complaints. The day after the coach was reinstated, the girls filed a lawsuit. The coach is back at school. The girls have been harassed in school and on the internet. Their parents have been harassed at work and some have been threatened with dismissal from their jobs for bringing the charges. Because the attorney for the girls is the wife of President of the University of Central Missouri, members of the community are now trying to get him removed from his position.

Look at these cases next to the FGCU situation, the Fresno State lawsuits and the University of North Carolina soccer coach’s sexual harassment case and there are some disturbing patterns:

• Calling a woman coach a lesbian is a popular strategy to try to discredit her, especially if she is protesting sex discrimination in sport or expressing concern about a male coach’s conduct
• Accusing a woman coach of sexual misconduct with one of her female players leads to her immediate dismissal even if the charges are not substantiated (or even investigated)
• A male coach accused of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct with female athletes is defended as a victim and the female accusers are portrayed as vengeful liars
• School administrators need some serious training about legal protocols to follow when sexual harassment and sexual misconduct charges are made, regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of the people involved
• Sexism and heterosexism are alive and well in schools

It seems we still have work to do.


calugg said...

Well, until school districts are sued and get hit with major financial damages, little will change.

For example, in light of the L.W. v Toms River decision (involved YEARS of gay-bashing), the state of NJ has made school districts financially liable if public schools maintain a pervasively homophobic climate. Schools now have an affirmative duty to address LGBT (and yes, T) issues and protect all students. They must have policies and precedures IN PLACE by Sept 2008. The court case coupled with the subsequent legislation has put public schools on notice--at least in my home state.

The kicker with coaching situation is the laws and court decisions are in place, but the CULTURE is still highly resistent. Until districts are sued and lose (everything down to their socks), little will change.

Pat Griffin said...

Calugg, I totally agree with you and thanks for the additional info on this.

Anonymous said...

It took Mr. Dorrance ten years to admit what he did for two years was wrong. It cost the school $385,000 to defend him,because they didn't dare go to court and fought a trial for ten years. His manager Mr. Baddour also had to defend his department after the Marion Jones case broke. His department has brought terrible news about this school except for winning national titles at any cost. I am sure no UNC professor would get a ten year defensive fight if he/she asked any student about their personal sexual activities. The school certainly wouldn't have spent that type of money either on an academic person. What this case says is that the UNC management team believes that winning sports games is more important than education.

Pat Griffin said...

Anonymous, I certainly won't disagree with your comments. And I believe if Dorrance was a lesbian with a similar winning record, she would be gone in sixty seconds.