MONROE, CT — The Masuk Panthers football team beat Brookfield 31-20 on the road on Nov. 3, but the game was nearly canceled when two Masuk coaches quit.
“After the coaches quit, the administration did not believe we had enough coaches to continue until three assistant coaches stepped up to coach the team,” Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza said. “We have plans in place to finish the season.”
During Monday’s Board of Education meeting, Diana Champagne, whose son plays for the Panthers, recalled the reactions of parents and players upon hearing about the possible cancelation.
“Our boys were told as they were preparing to get on a bus that their game was canceled,” she said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “They were also told that their season was over. They were at the field house. So as parents we’re angry that you were allowing this to happen to our boys. Players were angry, sad, devastated. I have them behind me. Some of them are here.”
The talented Panthers are 6-2, despite a season of turmoil in which Head Coach Steve Christy and Associate Head Coach Eric Giordano are on administrative leave, pending an investigation into the culture of the football program.
On Monday, Dennis Condon, a school board member, read a statement into the record explaining how the investigation began and how the Board of Education does not comment on personnel matters.
“The Board will release further information as soon as we legally can,” Condon said.
The entire statement is shared further down in the story.
On Monday morning, a group of football parents gathered outside Central Office on Main Street to demand answers to their questions about the investigation and News 12 ran a story on it.
Champagne took exception to Monroe Elementary School parents being told by the school that there were protestors outside and to a parent, who in an online post said she “can’t imagine risking scaring a bunch of little kids in such close proximity to Sandy Hook.”
“Joe, we were peaceful,” Champagne said to Kobza. “There was no protestors. There was 10 people out there. We showed up with flowers to talk. It was peaceful, so for it to come out that we were protestors just adds fuel to the fire. Then a parent comes out and twists it and says it’s a relationship to Sandy Hook. How dare she make that statement on a Facebook page.”
Champagne said there does not seem to be any oversight of the school board. “This isn’t about the coaches. It’s about our kids. It’s about accountability and responsibility. You failed our sons and you should all resign,” she said, as many people seated in the Masuk Media Center broke into applause.
The following statement was read by Condon at the beginning of Monday’s board meeting:
In June of this year, complaints were brought directly to the Board of Education (BOE) regarding the Masuk football program. Because we cannot divulge the names of any students with respect to this matter, we will not provide the specific details of those complaints. The complaints did, however, allege misbehavior by coaching staff and that attempts to remedy those concerns via school administration failed to produce results. No Board members were the initial complainants.
The Board sought legal counsel and on July 5, the Board met in executive session to discuss this matter. Due to the allegations, it was a clear consensus of the Board that two coaches should be placed on paid administrative leave and that the matter should be investigated. Board policy and past practice authorize paid administrative leave for these matters. This consensus was reached based on the interests of the students, athletes, coaches, and the overall program.
Moreover, to avoid any appearance of bias, and to ensure that Board policies were followed by school administrators, it was also the consensus of the Board that the Superintendent should work with the Board’s legal counsel to engage an outside attorney to investigate the matter.
No vote was held by the Board because policy and past practice authorize these actions, and that the staff involved are employees of the superintendent vs. the Board. The Board has a moral and legal responsibility to investigate all complaints.
Based on the consensus of the Board, the Superintendent consulted with the Board’s legal counsel and an outside attorney was engaged to conduct an administrative investigation. Surplus funds were encumbered to cover the expected cost of the investigation.
The Board authorized the superintendent to hire replacement staff and to provide the necessary support to ensure the football season would go forward. Interim coaching staff were hired.
Following mandated reporting law, a report was filed with the Department of Children & Families (DCF). DCF shortly thereafter notified the Board that they would not be investigating the matter.
The Board also notified the Monroe Police Department, who conducted and later concluded a criminal investigation.
The DCF, Monroe Police Department, and BOE are separate and distinct agencies, having differing responsibilities and jurisdiction. The inaction or action and decisions of one agency does not necessarily affect the actions and decisions of the others.
The Board did not release any information concerning this matter because the Board does not publicly discuss personnel matters. This is a legal issue and attempts to protect staff by not prematurely or inappropriately leading the public to mis conclusions. Also, the release of any detailed information is detrimental to the investigation and to any possible further legal or administrative process.
In response to many questions from the public, and to clarify who authorized this investigation, the Board met at a special meeting on October 17. The Board by official vote publicly confirmed that it authorized the investigation into the complaints presented to the board regarding the Masuk football program.
The Board will release further information as soon as we legally can.
Marie Blake, the former president of the Monroe Education Association, criticized the Board of Education’s Oct. 17 vote publicly confirming it authorized the investigation into the complaints presented to the board regarding the Masuk football program.
“So what was the board voting on? That you did or did not authorize this action? How absurd,” Blake said.
She said the second motion was to authorize the superintendent or the assistant superintendent to coordinate with the board’s legal counsel to engage an independent attorney to conduct the investigation.
“With all due respect, I … we don’t care that you authorized the investigation that these motions represent,” Blake said. “But the fact remains that you did not publicly vote on if an outside counsel should in fact be hired. I want to know what each member thought of hiring outside counsel as would be shown through their vote.”
Blake said the July 1, 2020 CABE Journal, which focuses on Connecticut school law, stated that, “boards are not permitted to take action by reaching a consensus in executive session without voting in open session.”
“For the record, you never voted in an open session,” she said. “Let’s be clear and transparent.”
Blake also contended that one board member had a conflict of interest, due to connections with the Masuk football program and its coaches, and should have recused him or herself.
Blake said she emailed Chairman David Ferris on Oct. 9 asking how much this investigation has cost the taxpayers and where the money is coming from. “Since I can’t get answers from this board, I will be filing a Freedom of Information request,” she said.
“This complaint should never have come to this board,” she concluded. “Proper procedure and protocol were not followed and with regard to this board and ethics, well let’s just say your actions speak for themselves.”
Champagne questioned whether Board of Education members’ special meeting vote on Oct. 17 was to “backtrack” and “cover your trail”
“You said it. I’m saying it. You can’t vote on something you already initiated back in July,” she said.
She also accused the school board of not following its mission of striving for a positive relationship with the community through communication. Champagne noted how meeting agendas say, immediate replies to questions or concerns are not to be expected.
“That’s at the board’s discretion, but you can reply and choose not to,” she said, adding while it may be true that immediate replies are not to be expected, “I do expect a reply and I haven’t gotten it.”
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