Parents Voice Concern Over Firing of Track Coach
Several concerned parents spoke at Thursday's School Committee meeting regarding the firing of Boys Track Coach Tom Davis.
Outraged Westwood residents were on hand for Thursday’s meeting of the Westwood School Committee, voicing their concerns and opinions regarding the firing of track coach Tom Davis, a matter that was not on the committee's agenda for the evening.
Davis was fired in April for allegedly being insubordinate about allowing his runners to run without shirts in practice. He was reportedly fired on the spot by Athletic Director Karl Fogel, and later escorted off the premises by Westwood High School Assistant Principal Sean Bevan and Superintendent John Antonucci. Fogel is now on administrative leave, pending an investigation by the School Committee.
Officials have said that the firing was not based on one incident, but that Davis was warned that a rule was being broken. Davis had said High School Principal Emily Parks related that several girls were offended that members of the boys track team had been running without shirts during practice.
Several of the members of the public spoke out against the decision to fire Davis, saying that the rule that being broken was unclear and that the turmoil has negatively affected the track runners and, in turn, their season. Up to his firing, the team was 5-0; Davis had also coached the winter track 4 X 800 team to record setting standards.
“It’s going to happen and it’s happened since I’ve been in school,” said Eric McKenna, a parent who does not have a son on the track team but is concerned about the situation.
McKenna questioned where in the handbook, or anywhere on the website, there is a rule stating that athletes cannot wear shirts. He said that if his son were to come home and say that he were suspended for breaking this rule, he would like to know the ins and outs.
However, School Committee member Jack O’Brien noted that he has seen the rule before, but admitted that he wasn’t sure where it was and that he needed to do a lot of clicking around on the site to find it. School Committee Chair Brian Kelly said that this has been a long-standing policy that was enforced.
“When the Principal and Athletic Director suggest something, we expect the request to be followed,” said Kelly.
Kelly noted that while it is not the School Committee’s highest priority, an investigator has been hired to look into the situation. A member of the public asked the name of the investigator and his experience, and Superintendent John Antonucci said his name was Edward Mitnick, who has almost 20 years of experience as an investigator.
Another resident asked if this was the same investigator hired three years ago, referring to another case involving Fogel, and Antonucci said no. Kelly said that question was out of line and there was no more discussion regarding that subject.
Kelly noted that it is an unfortunate issue, and that it is committee's responsibility to be fair to all parties involved.
“It’s unfortunate this happened, but it did,” said Kelly.
While Kelly said that it was a long-standing policy, Antonucci made clear that there is not a specific rule in the handbook.
“There is no rule about track runners wearing shirts in the high school student handbook,” said Antonucci.
School administrators and the School Committee have remained consistent with the statement that they cannot release information about the event, as it is a personnel matter and that the investigation should round up evidence of what happened. The investigation involves speaking to students, teachers, parents and others at the scene.
McKenna, visibly upset, said that the, due to the impending hotter months ahead, male athletes are likely to take off their shirts when they run. Another parent, Jennifer Berry, said that it is nothing new to have boys without shirts in practice.
She noted that “shirts and skins” has been something going on for years. She also said that the firing should not have taken place in a public forum, but instead in an office where they could speak in private.
Another parent, Lalitha Sundaram, told the School Committee that her son is on the track team and that they were casually told about following the policy. She said that this firing happened in a public place with more than 30 students having witnessed the incident. Sundaram said she thought that this was unacceptable.
“The behavior was unprofessional and for kids to witness this sets a bad standard on who the role models are,” said Sundaram.
Sundaram said that the athletes were heading towards their goal to be state champions, but the team is very dejected now. Davis, she said, had a specific program set in place for the runners and that they are clearly dejected by the situation.
Susan Young, a Hartford Street resident, noted that this situation is just bad all around, as many have good relationships with Fogel as well. She said she felt that the School Committee was doing the right thing by conducting an investigation.
While the parents were able to voice their concerns in a public forum, neither Antonucci nor the committee were able to disclore more information on the matter.
“This subject is not one we can fairly discuss in public at this time,” said Antonucci. “Specifically, we are bound by the personnel records laws.”
Kelly said that the investigation will continue over a span of a couple of weeks and should be ready in time for the next School Committee meeting in June.