Some State College Area School District parents want the school board to create another body of adults that would oversee athletics.
Parents who spoke during the public comment period of Monday’s school board meeting were motivated by the recent resignations of two coaches from the girls’ lacrosse team. Former head coach Mark Mahon’s and assistant coach Chelsea Cameron’s resignations were made official March 28 and were effective March 15. They could not be reached for comment.
Some of the parents of girls who play on the team said in a letter that “certain members of the community that make up a minority of parents wielded ... influence in creating an environment hostile to the coaching staff resulting in their resignation. Many parents who were outside the process perceived a complete lack of transparency, which has resulted in suspicion and mistrust of the process and other parents.”
Suzanne Van Kirk, the parent of a player on the team, said it would be ineffective to move forward without looking at the tools to work through conflict within the school district.
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Three parents of players — Van Kirk, Jay Paterno and Tom La Porta — spoke during public comment and proposed an outside advisory board of four or six “experienced, non-involved volunteers from the community with backgrounds in coaching or athletics administration” to guide the school district in athletics.
La Porta said parents and players were blindsided that accusations were made against the former coaches.
“It came to our attention during a meeting with the players (that) they were told there were allegations that the coach mistreated some of the players,” La Porta said. “We don’t necessarily believe the coach was mistreating the players, but these claims were made to the players and upset several of our daughters and other players as well. It’s upsetting to parents to hear that.”
La Porta and Paterno said parents do not know what the allegations were and doubt there would be any truth to them.
“I have a great deal of respect for Mark Mahon and his staff,” Paterno said. “I also support the current staff, but I want to make sure that we get this right for Mark as well as create a transparent and fair process for all in the future. In the end we all want what is best for all students and that is a situation where the coaches feel they can run the team in a way that is consistent with the academic mission of the school without having to worry about which student's parents can get them fired.”
“I did support the former coaching staff, but this is not a reflection on the new coaching staff,” La Porta added. “My complaints are with the process of handling complaints about the former staff and apparent unequal access to decision makers by a few parents, and lack of transparency since then.”
They believe a new advisory board would gain the trust of the community in decisions to remove and hire coaches for sports teams, but SCASD Assistant Superintendent Mike Hardy said there is a Citizens Advisory Committee for Athletics and that it acts as a forum for addressing school district athletics issues.
The CAC for Athletics is mostly made up of people connected with the school like parents, school administrators and board members. Paterno said the proposed advisory board would preferably be made up of adults experienced in athletics who do not work at or have a child attending SCASD.
A new board, the parents said in the letter, would protect administration from allegations of “undue influence” and also give coaches an opportunity to voice their concerns. It would not handle criminal allegations, instead forwarding such matters to school administration.
The parents said the board would meet with all potential student-athletes and their parents once or twice a year to introduce themselves and even present information on the role of athletics. They also said the school district should have a uniform code of conduct for behavior on and off the field, which should be read and signed by parents, players and coaches. The code would include procedures for how to register complaints to the advisory board.
“These policies should help insure that both the parents and the administration understand the protocol and stick to it,” the letter said. “Only that type of protocol will make the process consistent, transparent and fair for everyone involved. It can eliminate the blurring of personal and professional relationships that are often the root causes of confusion and contempt for those who may feel disenfranchised.”