polos boots Parents hammer schools over hockey coach scandal
ANDOVER A room full of angry parents confronted the School Committee Tuesday night about the recent suspension of three, popular high school hockey coachesover what many said were bogus allegations of abuse against players.
About 40 people filled the School Committee conference room for the meeting, during which committee members voted to fund a request from Andover High School Principal Philip Conrad for an independent investigation of allegations of abuse against the three coaches.
The investigative firm Ryan Strategies LLC will begin immediately looking into allegations that were reported to the state Department of Children and Families, or DCF, that the coaches withheld food and water from the players as punishment for two, recent losses. The DCF is in the midst of an investigation, which is supposed to be concluded by Monday.
Earlier this week, the DCF, which had previously requested the town hold back on an investigation until after the state inquiry was done, told the town it could commence its own investigation immediately.
The School Committee voted 4 1 in favor of spending $2,500 to allow the investigation to begin. School Committee member Ted Teichert voted against the measure after raising concerns about the firm, which is based out of Arlington and headed by Police Chief Frederick Ryan. Town Manager Andrew Flanagan formerly worked in Arlington and Teichert, as well as others at the meeting, was concerned about a perception of bias that connection may create.
The rest of the committee rejected that, and agreed to allow Conrad to hire Ryan.
The committee did go along with Teichert on his request that an executive session be held on Thursday, Feb. 8, to discuss Superintendent Sheldon Berman’s character in light of a six page letter he wrote in 2016 to Conrad and the athletic director at the time about hockey Coach Chris Kuchar. In the memo Berman encouraged Kuchar’s termination because Berman’s son, who played varsity as a senior, wasn’t given much playing time.
But Tuesday night, one after another, parents, many of them standing because there weren’t enough seats to accommodate the crowd,
asked the School Committee questions and made comments about the situation. Initially, Chairwoman Susan McCready said she wouldn’t allow any comments from parents.
But she was shouted down and so she relented, allowing many to speak up.
Dan Gillette of 19 Moraine St. said Berman’s letter was the tip of the iceberg, and that parents were ruining the athletic experience for many coaches and students in Andover.
“I’d like to encourage you all as you do this to take a holistic approach and find out how things are connected,” he said. “A lot of parents are sabotaging our coaches and our teams and therefore affecting the welfare of our students and student athletes.”
Bob Pokress of 3 Cherrywood Circle asked if the coaches would receive an apology if found innocent.
“Ifthe report comes back,whether it is DCF or the independent one indicating that the coaches did nothing wrong, will the principal, superintendent, and the School Committee issue a public apology for defaming his character?” Pokress asked. “He has been living through this accusation.”
“We didn’t make the call to DCF,” McCready said. It has been alleged that a parent of a junior varsity player made the call about abuse.
Selectman Bob Landry said the issue at hand wasn’t about the coaches, but was about Berman’s potentially unethical behavior.
“It is remarkable to me as a School Committee that you are ignoring the elephant in the room,” he said. “You have evidence now that the superintendent of schools wrote a six page memo to two subordinates encouraging them to terminate the Andover High School hockey coach in clear retaliation for how he felt his own son had been treated. How that doesn’t warrant an investigation by you immediately is beyond me.”
Landry was met with applause.
School Committee member Shannon Scully shot back at Landry, accusing him of grandstanding for the crowd.
“We can’t entertain personnel matters in open meeting,” she said. “This will be dealt with in executive session. If you don’t mind getting off of your soap box that would be fantastic.”
One parent questioned why the district didn’t just bring the coaches back. As part of the DCF investigation, some 45 people were interviewed, including every member of the varsity and junior varsity hockey teams as well as the coaches.
“In this second investigation, will they be talking to all the of the children again?” asked Kristine Molten of 7 Lancaster Road.
“No, it is limited to the coaches,” McCready said. “People want to get their kids back to where they were. I think we all do feel terrible and that they did not ask for this. We are all doing what we can to move it along.”
Conrad could not say how long the Ryan investigation would last, but he did say that he hoped the process would be expedited. He stated that the investigation would focus on the allegations reported to DCF and that the three coaches would be interviewed. He didn’t expect the investigation to open up wider than that unless more information was uncovered.
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