Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees heard from coaches Thursday, who said they hoped trustees would also recognize the positive aspects of school sports.

Kirk Burrows, a health and physical education teacher at Del Norte High School and the cross country and golf coach, said he was disappointed a recent discussion about the school board’s concerns was held publicly without including input from coaches.

Burrows said he and his colleagues would be happy to participate in an ad-hoc committee established to look into the concerns.

Burrows said he and his colleagues felt attacked after reading about the board’s discussion in the Triplicate. He said he and his colleagues felt they weren’t given an opportunity to address the board’s concerns, pointing out they might have been able to “de-sensationalize some of these comments.”

However, the inappropriate behavior school board President Jamie Forkner brought to light has been addressed, Burrows said.

“The things that were stated that were true (was) completely inappropriate behavior,” Burrows said. “All of them were addressed. There was disciplinary action and some of that disciplinary action was severe, so these are isolated incidents that don’t happen every day.”

At the school board’s Feb. 15 meeting, Forkner outlined a series of concerns including coaches cursing and yelling at players during games, girls and boys basketball players at away tournaments being in each other’s rooms unsupervised and at least 10 coaches quitting over the last three years.

Forkner said she was also concerned athletics facilities including practice fields with holes and broken sprinklers, nets that are falling down and a restroom at the football stadium that isn’t ADA compliant.

There was also discussion at the Feb. 15 meeting ranging on topics from coach conduct to hiring a new athletics director to whether it’s appropriate for junior high school students to participate in traveling sports teams that go to tournaments out of the area on school nights multiple times a season.

On Thursday the school board unanimously agreed to establish an ad-hoc committee to evaluate the athletics program. Though they haven’t decided who exactly will serve on the committee, Superintendent Jeff Harris said he envisioned it being made up of two school board members, a middle school coach, a high school coach, an administrator from the middle school and high school, community members, non-coaching staff and possibly students.

The ad-hoc committee could also be a bit smaller with students, community members and parents being invited to speak instead of actually serving on the committee, Harris said. He noted the committee would not only investigate the nature of the concerns that were aired at the previous school board meeting, it would also shed light on the aspects of athletics that are working well.

“Some of the stuff we do is perceived by some of the other folks in our area to be model programs and there are other things that need to be fixed,” Harris said. “I think it’s two-fold: It’s to celebrate the positives as much as it is to find and fix other things.”

Louis Nova, a teacher at Castle Rock Charter School and head football coach at Del Norte High School, said as coaches, he and his colleagues push themselves and their players to reach the playoffs without extra pay. The football program starts practicing a week before school starts without extra pay, he said. And the students in the football program are among the highest in grade-point average in the region, Nova said.

Nova asked the school board to be fair on both sides and invited trustees to visit his football program.

“We have no word from our board about the good things we do,” he said, noting Del Norte football is the largest athletics program at the high school and is among the largest in Northern California. “Yes, I am going to make mistakes but with the leadership I have, the administration at the high school, we take care of those mistakes. We follow the protocol. Parents are not happy with me if their kids don’t play. We push them, we give them the extra hours to try make them better.”

Jennifer Larson, who coaches track and field for Castle Rock Charter School and volleyball for Crescent Elk Middle School, suggested the district consider hiring an athletics director for junior high as well as a certified athletic administrator at the district level. The junior high athletics director could be a stipend position that would work with Crescent Elk Middle School as well as Smith River and Redwood schools, she said.

“With an athletic director position, because our goal here is best practice, quality, we need a face at those gyms that will represent our coaches, our players, our spectators our referees and our facilities,” Larson said. “When you look at these athletic director positions in middle schools, it can’t be a coach and it can’t be an administrator. It needs to be representing all of these people. It’s just best practice.”

A certified athletic administrator at the district level could work with Robert Hadfield, the athletics director at Del Norte High School, and a middle school athletics director to provide community outreach and oversight, Larson said.

Forkner offered an apology to the coaches who felt attacked, pointing out that in addition to her concerns with coaches’ behavior she was concerned about the state of the facilities as well.

“Why I brought it to the public is we’ve been discussing this for three years since I’ve been on the board and nothing has changed,” she said. “We implemented the handbook this year, nothing has changed. We still have a lot of the same issues. Yes, I brought it to the public. It did air some dirty laundry, but it’s bringing it to light that these are things that need to be fixed.”

Forkner said she felt she shouldn’t be part of the ad-hoc committee since she has a child that’s involved in athletics and she was the one who brought her concerns to her colleagues’ attention in February.

Harris said he would look into the protocol for ad-hoc committees in the school district and bring it back before the board at a future meeting.

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