- Grove City, Pennsylvania

September 25, 2013

Bullying topic at board's meeting

By Felicia A. Petro/Senior Reporter
Allied News

GROVE CITY — School directors in Grove City had a full house at Monday's business meeting, with citizens concerned about various issues in the district - including bullying.

Coach Don Fee allegedly being too rough with athletes was brought up by fathers John Graham and Jim Thrasher. Fee has coached basketball and been employed in the high school physical education department for years.

A voting item on the board's agenda was accepting Fee and other coaches for winter sports.

Students bullying students was also raised by Josh Moore, who recently created a Facebook page called Prayer Angels for bullied Grove City school kids to find support from parents, grandparents and peers.

He told Allied News that he was concerned after hearing of a Connecticut teen who killed himself this year after the first day of school. News reports state that the sweet teen had been bullied for years due to his clumsiness.

After starting Prayer Angels, a student told Moore about a Twitter account that basically bullies Grove City students.

Photos of kids who are overweight and have acne are ridiculed on the site. "There is a (fake) picture of a student doing sexual favors," Moore added. "Some of you on the board, your relatives have been in the page."

"There's one tweet of a certain girl that says 'she's not even worth the cost of a bullet.' In this day and age, that all needs to be taken very seriously," added Veronica Norcross, at the meeting. "I'm very concerned."

Going to authorities and the creators of Twitter are the best ways to have the site removed, said Moore, who gave copies of the tweets to concerned board members.

Moore was not aware of how much work the district has done to shut down the Twitter page. Superintendent Dr. Richard Mextorf stated that the district has reported it to Grove City police and Twitter.

"We took it very seriously. This is not acceptable. We don't want to sweep it under the rug - and make sure it's addressed," Mextorf said.

Esther Falcetta said she and other parents, as well as high school principals, had actively worked together to stop the site, which is not yet shut down by Twitter.

"It's terrible and awful," she said, and no source for the account has been tracked.

Graham and Thrasher were vexed by Fee's behavior with their sons and other players, using strong words like "bullying" and "intimidation" to describe it.

"I witnessed it myself," Thrasher said; alleging that Fee grabbed a student at a basketball camp in the summer of 2012.

Thrasher is a PIAA basketball official, and noted that other officials communicated their shock that Grove City would not remove a coach who grabbed a student - like their districts would "no questions asked."

Thrasher had met with Mextorf last fall and to discuss the matter. The dad alleged that Fee was put "on a corrective action plan" last school year; however, "the abuse continues," he said.

He met with the school board in March about Fee's alleged history "and asked you to do a through investigation. It's my sincere hope that has been accomplished," said Thrasher, whose son has already graduated from the high school.

Graham's son still attends high school and doesn't care to play basketball after an incident in January when another student punched him in the face, which made him bitter. The father alleged after the meeting that Fee did not report the incident.

The punching incident came to light to Grove City police after Graham's son got in trouble in school with his attacker and was suspended, he said. The attacker allegedly confessed his assault to police, Graham added.

Since January, he met with school officials, Mextorf and Fee. Graham talked to the school board in executive session this summer with his wife. He felt the board didn't take the situation seriously enough. "Please don't hide your head in the sand and do the right thing," he said to members on Monday.

The dad initially wanted a "simple acknowledgment" from Fee that the coach didn't handle his son's situation properly, and to allow the boy to play basketball, he added after the meeting.

Graham now believes the board should open the basketball position to "find a better candidate for the job," he said.

"A coach in a young man's life is only second to a father ... for good, or as an incredibly destructive force," Thrasher said. "My question is, 'If this conduct is not allowed in a classroom, then why allowed it in a gymnasium?'"

Thrasher recommended that the board implement "an active professional development plan for coaches," he said, "and an objective, formal evaluation of the coaches in the district if that's not already being done."

"There's no accountability and parents have a very difficult time raising questions about coaches," Falcetta said.

While Superintendent Dr. Robert Post was still leading the district, director Scott Somora - who is still a board member - took heat for alleging issues of misconduct by long-time wrestling coach Marty Ruley. Somora's son, who was on the wrestling team, spoke up a separate time against Ruley in a school board meeting.

Former board President Robert Montgomery - who sat in the audience at Monday's meeting - had stated that there was conflicting information about whether Ruley had acted imprudently after a wrestling tournament a few years ago.

Ruley would not comment on the allegations; the majority of the board supported keeping him as coach. Ruley's name was also on Monday's agenda to coach wrestling.

The issue of coaches' behavior was raised thereafter by Somora, who believed the district should have a coaches code of conduct policy. Other board members and administrators believed the conduct would fall under the same written rules for teachers - as well as state and national sports leagues.

The coaches code of conduct issue was raised again on Monday, as the board has been working with the Pennsylvania School Board's Association to update its policies and procedures manual. The board had its first reading of the updated manual on Monday, but Somora believed there are still loose ends that should be tied up before its adopted.

President Sue Herman has stated that the manual is organic and revisions will continually be made with it; however, the base needs to be voted on now that the school year has begun and the board has worked on the manual for 10 months.

Director Faye Bailey made a suggestion to discuss a coaches code of conduct policy at October's workshop meeting, when they can consider putting together an ad hoc committee to write it.

Somora made a motion to table the vote on the winter sports coaches until next month, which the board approved.

Herman added after the meeting that she could not discuss Fee because personnel issues are private; however, the board is currently reviewing the allegations against him. Fee could not be reached for comment before publication.

Published Sept. 11, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.