The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Thursday, July 01, 2004

Caving Into Threats In Cedarburg 

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a story about a Cedarburg Varsity Basketball Coach who was dismissed last night for his zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy. Several things about this particular story bother me. First of all, the coach was a very good coach. The team finished 17-5 last year, and has done equally well in previous years. So this wasn't about his coaching ability.

Instead this is about parents threatening to sue because their students were caught. He makes his players and their parents sign a contract at the beginning of the season which state those expectations, and the consequences. His personal policy does go above and beyond the school district policy, but that is actually not uncommon. Last year a couple of his players were caught drinking, and he kicked them off the team in accordance with this policy.

In notices of claim - the precursor to possible lawsuits - filed against the School District, William and Suzanne Marten and John and Susan Truchan demand compensation for the "emotional distress" allegedly suffered by their sons, Ross Marten and David Truchan, resulting from the stress of losing their spots on the team.

Both sets of parents acknowledge in the claims that they signed a basketball player contract for their sons that accepted Siebert's zero-tolerance policy despite a weaker general athletic conduct code.

The Martens also accuse Siebert of permitting another basketball team member to continue playing after violating the zero-tolerance policy.

Emotional distress over being kicked off the team? If I was caught doing what these kids were doing when I was their age, believe me, I would have faced a lot of emotional distress. But that distress wouldn't be over being kicked off the team, it would be over my mother kicking my ass for getting drunk at a party. Then she'd would have kept me off the team herself.

But more than the bogus threats of lawsuits by the parents, this little tidbit bothers me the most:

Acting in a public session after a four-hour meeting closed to the public, the board provided no reason for the decision.

A written statement issued by the board said the decision was not disciplinary in nature, and that board members respect Siebert's skill as a coach.
...
About 50 people - including many teachers - showed up for Wednesday's meeting to support Siebert, but, like the general public, they were excluded from the meeting and were left standing outside of the meeting room while the private discussion continued late into the night.

Why is a school board meeting allowed to take place behind closed doors? Do we or do we not live in a democratic society? Are school board members not elected officials? How are elected officials supposed to be held accountable for their actions in policy making, if we as voters aren't allowed to even hear why they made a decision? Their written statement doesn't even give a reason. We could be left to assume that this was to avoid lawsuits... but how do we know? Was the fact that the parents claimed other students weren't punished part of this decision? What proof did they have? Did they have any? We don't know. Why? The session was behind closed doors.

I think this is a travesty, and those school board members should be ashamed. If they want to avoid the lawsuits, then say it. Back up your decision. Take public input from those people affected by your decisions. You represent the parents of Cedarburg students, allow them input into the teaching of their children. Open your doors. This is a democracy.

Update: The coach has threatened to sue for breach of contract if he isn't reinstanted according to today's Journal Sentinel. I'm not a lawyer, but I'd guess his claim is decent since they just re-did his contract at the beginning of the month. If they thought he was an issue, why would they bother doing that? On two other fronts:

WEAC also is contemplating filing a federal lawsuit against the district for violating Siebert's constitutional right of due process by failing to give him a reason for his dismissal as basketball coach.
...
Also on Thursday, the Journal Sentinel notified Ozaukee County District Attorney Sandy Williams that the newspaper believes the School Board violated the state's open meetings law by discussing the dismissal in a closed session.

James Pepelnjak, an attorney for the newspaper, has asked Williams to void the meeting and order the School Board to discuss Siebert's tenure as coach at a future meeting that is open to the public.

Comments:

The concept of suing for not renewing any employment contract, either as a teacher or a coach, seems over the top. If there is a contract signed by BOTH the coach and the school board (the article only specifies that the coach signed), then the coach should be paid even if he is dismissed from the responsibilities. Suing for lack of due process would infer that the coach is being deprived of a right, not of being a victim of breach of contract.

Bob Hall
bhall@rft.com

  Posted at July 02, 2004 2:21 PM by Anonymous Anonymous  
There are really three lawsuits going on here:
1. The coach is sueing for breach. Not knowing exactly what his terms are, it's hard to say if he really has a case or not.
2. WEAC is sueing for not giving him due process rights. Since the school board is a government body, that might be applicable. Plus the coach could very well be covered by the union, in which case that might cover him.
3. The Journal Sentinal is trying to overturn the decision because it violated the open meetings law. That's probably a good call on its own.

  Posted at July 02, 2004 7:36 PM by Blogger Nick  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.


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