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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Letter from football family's attorney regarding incident

Saline School System
Re: Student X
To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing this letter as a result of a student's expulsion from the Saline Football Team. The parents of the student initially contacted me because of my familiarity with historical issues they have had with the Saline School System, and perhaps more importantly because of my familiarity with their son, Student X. They contacted me for advice and for a review of the situation. I have reviewed the summaries and incident reports, including investigation reports that the Parents were provided with from the school system. The Parents have advised me that there is going to be an appeal hearing to reconsider this matter. After reviewing the relevant document and discussing the matter with the Parents, I offered to write a letter on Student X's behalf to ensure that certain elements that I think are important to the appeal process are considered.

A review of the incident reports and procedure followed by the Saline High School might give a reader the appearance that proper procedures were followed and that the investigation was completed appropriately. I believe that casual review, however, cannot stand up to meaningful scrutiny. I further believe that even a casual review reveals that a full expulsion of Student X for the entire football season is unusually harsh under these circumstances.

I will address my last conclusion first, and then discuss why I think the investigation, particularly in these circumstances, was inappropriate. If we assume, however, for a moment that all appropriate measures were taken and that everything put in the summaries and investigation reports is true, it still appears to me that even on the face of it, an expulsion is unduly harsh. It appears that Student X was expelled for complaining about water and allegedly cursing. Even assuming that the implication of what is in the reports is true, the question remains, is cursing at a coach sufficient to suspend a player for an entire year? The field interviews documented on August 28, 2007, admit that even coaches will utter curse words. The statement is that they will not be directed at a player. It is extremely unlikely that at any practice or game a curse word will never be uttered. The question becomes, were the curse words in this instance significantly worse to justify the expulsion? I would question whether there is a clear policy on cursing, which is understood by the players and coaches. Maybe, if a player cursed directly at a coach, it may warrant a discipline. I question, however, whether in instances of cursing, there is (or should be) a warning system in place. It does not appear from any of the reports that Student X was ever given any warning or told to step in line, or to "watch his mouth." It appears that he uttered the single expression, "f--k you," and was expelled for the entire year without warning.

As alluded to above, however, even if all of the statements and implications are true, coupled with the fact that the school lost the tape of Student X's testimony where he completely denies cursing at the coach, I think there is a legitimate question as to whether the punishment was too severe, and whether Student X simply should have received a warning or other less drastic action. There is no mention in any of the reports, whatsoever, about expectations issued to players, or expectations regarding cursing, whether any warnings were ever issued to any players. The lack of these elements, however, is only the tip of the other problems with the interviews and the implications made therein. There was no reference made to any other incident triggering this behavior other than asking for and being refused water.

I believe it must be clear and cannot be refuted that any investigation conducted by a principal or anyone in the school is necessarily going to be biased towards supporting the behavior of the coaches. This does not imply any intentional wrongdoing or intentional bias on the part of anyone involved. It is simply human nature, and it is what it is. We must review the reports and actions by school officials, however, understanding that bias. Similarly, as it is human nature to recollect events in a light that is most favorable to one's self, we must review any statements made by parties involved, understanding that bias. This applies not only to coaches that are being questioned and under scrutiny, but also to other participants, including Student X himself.

[deletion to protect child]

As indicated, when reviewing the information put forth, recognizing those inherent biases, numerous additional questions arise. I will first address the issue of water. The reports imply that water was available throughout the entire practice. The athletic director states that they ensure that athletes have adequate water. Of course it is the job of the athletic director and coaches, given the past history of the Saline Schools, and knowledge of the dangers of dehydration, to ensure that the players have water. Unfortunately, making water available does not ensure that any specific player gets water. What is lacking is any specific indication that anyone made sure not only, that Student X got an opportunity to get water, but that he actually did get water. These are, after all, high school students, and Student X is a high school freshman. What is clear from the report, and from some of the students involved, is that Student X clearly complained about not getting water. In the reports, Coach Buchanan states that he clearly heard Student X state, "we never get any water." Coach Buchanan did not respond by asking Student X, "why did you say that, there is plenty of water over there." He responded by stating, "you just had a break, get water at the end." Thus, there was clearly a statement reflecting a need for water, which was responded with, "You can get it later." If water was clearly available, wouldn't a coach wonder why a player would state, "We never get any water?" If you ask Student X why he made that statement, he can tell you. It is because during the last two supposed breaks, he did not get an opportunity to get water. Moreover, Student X will clearly state that when he needed to get water, he was told no, he could wait.

While there is a statement that there was water available during the entire practice, simply having water bottles out does not mean that an athlete can leave the field anytime they want and go get water. I suspect if you ask every player, "can you leave practice at any point in time and go over and get water whenever you need it," the consistent answer would be "No", just the way Student X was told to wait. It is understandable that practice would not be productive if players would come on and off the field. However, when a player clearly indicates a need for water, a question as to why should at least be asked. It does not appear that there was any attempt whatsoever to see whether or not Student X had a legitimate complaint about water.

The interviews and reports also conclude that statements by the players were inconclusive, and makes mention numerous times that the players questioned were those whose names Student X provided. When you ask Student X about this specifically, he will tell you that he was frustrated and feeling dehydrated at the time and was not fully conscious of who was near him. He gave names of those he thought might be near him, but adamantly will state that he was not specifically aware of who might have heard him, or who had not. When he gave 5 names, it was his best guess as to who may have been near. This was conditioning where players were in random order. Therefore, the continued implication that the 5 players were specifically those whose names were provided by him is definitely misleading. Nevertheless, some players interviewed clearly heard him ask for water. Because some indicated they did not hear him ask, cannot and should not cause one to conclude that he didn't ask or even that it raises an inconsistency. Those individuals did not make the statement, "I was near Student X, could hear what he was saying, and I never heard him ask." What they were asked was, "Did you hear him ask," to which they answered "No." There was no follow-up question to say, "Had he asked, were you close enough to have heard him?" There was never even a question asked of those students as to whether they were in a position to hear Student X ask for water. Therefore, to say that because three students didn't hear him ask creates an inconsistency is simply false.
Moreover, one specific student heard a coach say, "C'mon xxxx, suck it up, wait 'till after conditioning." It is very probable that nobody else was within earshot to hear this, or that they were so involved in their own conditioning that they were not paying attention to what Student X and the other coaches were doing. Clearly, the statement of an independent student with such a specific quote must be compelling.

In addition, certain of the players who were around him did hear Student X cursing. There is an inconsistency as to who he was cursing at. Despite the inconsistency, it does not appear that anyone attempted to really clarify the inconsistency. It does not appear that anyone asked the students, "Why do you think he was cursing at players and not the coaches?"

Moreover, what I believe is most interesting is that all of the players interviewed and all of the coaches clearly reported that Student X was upset, angry and agitated. It does not appear anywhere that there was any attempt by anyone to find out why Student X was so irritated and agitated. What is also lacking completely in the report is any statement that this behavior by Student X was consistent with his behavior at other practices. That absence raises the largest question for me in this incident. There is no indication whatsoever that there was a historical problem with Student X. If this rude behavior was consistent with prior behavior that he exhibited at practices, I would have expected a reference to prior incidences, parental notification and documentation or warnings about the behavior. This was not the case. Therefore, if this was not consistent with his normal behavior, and this had not been a problem in other practices, why wasn't Student X's behavioral difference questioned? If Student X normally behaved like other teammates, why wasn't a red flag raised, and why didn't someone question what was going on when he was so clearly agitated and frustrated on this day?

The conclusion of the incident report conducted Tuesday, August 28, 2007, states that the staff did not conduct themselves without regard to student athlete's safety. Every single coach, however, noted that Student X was agitated, and reported that he was cursing, and they sent him to the locker room. It appears that a coach went in after him at some point, but initially they sent Student X to the locker room by himself. Again, because there is no reference to any prior behavior, and we must assume that the behavior on this day was an aberration, why didn't anybody raise any question as to whether there was any medical or other reason for Student X's behavior? Again, we do know that he claims to have asked for water and at least one other team member specifically heard him ask for water. The coach admits that he heard Student X state, "we never get any water." Any coach or athletic trainer should know symptoms of dehydration include not only fatigue but frustration and irritability. In an email from Jared Falkowski to Rob White, he clearly reports that after the practice, when he went into the locker room, Student X was still visibly upset. He also notes the following about Student X; "bloodshot eyes, breathing extremely heavy, speaking with an angry tone in his voice." This was after practice was over and at least ten minutes after Student X had been sent to the locker room. I question why no one addressed whether any medical issues existed if Student X had physical symptoms which included bloodshot eyes and breathing extremely heavily. It does not appear that anyone asked if Student X if he was ok, had a headache, or had any other medical symptoms whatsoever. He was never checked by the trainer, there wasn't any medical attention given, his parents were not notified and he still was not given water.

The bottom line is Student X was clearly exhibiting physical symptoms that were inconsistent with his normal behavior. Those symptoms are consistent with dehydration. They could also be consistent with other conditions, but none of them were pursued, least of all dehydration, which on a hot summer day when he clearly asked for water, should have been addressed. In any normal child, these issues should have raised questions. It does not appear that any of these items were pursued. As indicated, it also does not appear that any follow-up questions were pursued to clarify any of the supposed inconsistencies in statements. What the investigation report is peppered with is self-serving statements about how everything was done right.
Again, the purpose of this is not to imply malicious intention on anyone's part, but simply to point out that perhaps the investigation and the actions were not as complete and as thorough as they could have and probably should have been. This investigation was not about any and all practices and water policy. It should have been specific to this incident.
As stated above, Student X's appearance and condition on that day should have raised questions in any normal child. As the school should be aware, however, Student X is not a normal child. Student X has certain specific medical issues. Those issues have been made known to the school for years. Nowhere in the report is there any indication that anyone took any of these issues into consideration. There is discussion in the report about the Parents questioning Student X's 504.

[deletions to protect the student's privacy]

Based upon the incident reports and investigation, it does not appear that there was any accommodation for or even any awareness of any of Student X's issues. Student X's parents were not even notified of the incident until one day later.

Based upon the apparent biases in the investigation and the clear inadequacies, coupled with the fact that there was no effort to accommodate Student X's specific needs, the disciplinary action he received was clearly inappropriate. I believe the coaches need to have better information and training about Student X's needs, and to make the simple accommodations that are required. I feel there needs to be a cooperative effort to work together, so that in instances were Student X is concerned, he has a plan of action that he can follow to ensure that it does not get out of hand. In light of his specific needs and the failure to address them or to show any concern whatsoever to whether he could possibly have been dehydrated on that day, I think the discipline should be overturned. I strongly urge you to consider these issues as you go through your appeal process.

Very truly yours,

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Blogger kleighc77 said...

So should there be a warning given after a child tells their coach "F**k You!"? I think that falls under the category of think before you speak, he should've given himself the warning before he ever said it - I don't believe a warning is necessary after that - once those words have been uttered I think the kid deserves whatever he gets. Honestly, I think he's lucky that he was just kicked off the team and not suspended from school alltogether.

October 9, 2007 at 1:12 PM  
Blogger c dubbs said...


October 10, 2007 at 1:14 PM  
Blogger aa2bar said...

I agree with the previous two posters. I guess with this kid's upbringing the use of profanity to anyone is considered perfectly acceptable. Welcome to the real world!

October 10, 2007 at 10:33 PM  

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