Guest Post: Coach Randy Explains How The New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill Of Rights Failed His Son
Coach Randy is Randy Nathan, president of Project NextGen and author of Bullying In Sports: A Guide To Identifying The Injuries We Don't See. Randy agreed to write a guest post for us today that gets right down into the roots of what bullying is all about. And he doesn't stop there.
The “Garden” State of New Jersey is known for many wonderful things. Whether it’s the famous beach communities, an exceptional public educational system, or the home to famous athletes, entertainers, business leaders, and politicians, New Jersey has something for every walk of life. However, a little unknown fact is that New Jersey also boasts the most comprehensive anti-bullying legislation in the country-- the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Student Bill of Rights Act (NJSA 18A:37-13). It is also commonly referred to as HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying) Both the NJ House and Senate passed the law (Assembly 71-1, with 5 abstentions and the Senate 30-0) in November 2010 and Governor Christie singed the bill on January 5, 2011. It was implemented on September 1, 2011. As an anti-bullying expert, I take tremendous pride in this piece of legislation. It was certainly needed and provided a necessary framework for the public educational systems to address important bullying situations, in and out of school.
As an anti-bullying expert in New Jersey, I have travelled throughout the state training and educating faculty, administrators, boards of education, parents and students on this law. I have presented in small school districts, large state conferences, school boards of education, and parent workshops. What most individuals do not know is that this Act was really an extension of legislation originally enacted in 2002 (NJSA 18A:37-13). In recent news, the State of Montana became the fiftieth and final state within the country with anti-bullying legislation. Most of the original laws throughout the country were implemented following the tragedy of Columbine High School in April 1999. In anti-bullying education, this shooting is often referred to as a pivotal moment of a tragic paradigm shift of how bullying was perceived within schools. Prior to Columbine, bullying was something that was simply commonplace and part of life. The target of bullying had limited protection. However, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, both perceived targets of bullying behavior, changed that perception when they dressed in trench coats and began shooting fellow students and teachers, looking for the “jocks” within the school. It was the first time victims took matters into their own hands and devastated hundreds of lives, including their own, and forever changed the landscape of Littleton, Colorado. Although this fact has since been challenged, this incident created zero-tolerance policies throughout the country, eventually leading to state laws.
The 2011 NJ Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights was also the result of another national tragedy. Although a task force was in place evaluating the current law, legislation heated up when Tyler Clementi, an eighteen year-old freshman student at Rutgers University jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in September 2010. His roommate, Dharun Ravi, and fellow hall mate, Molly Wei used a webcam on Ravi’s computer in Wei’s dorm room to view Climenti being intimate with another man. Two days later, Ravi told his friends and Twitter followers to watch the intimacy once again. Even though the viewing never occurred, Climenti took his own life and in doing so brought national attention to the raising seriousness and quickest growing form of bullying-- cyberbullying and the increased targeting of LGBT youth.
When the law was signed, supporters cheered, advocates highlighted the courage taken by legislatures, and families with personal experiences celebrated a new sense of accountability. The timeline to get everything into place was a measly nine months that required school districts to implement new staff responsibilities (in some situations new staff), mandated procedures to be followed for the reporting, investigating and follow through of information. Schools were required to establish their own policies and practices that fulfilled the new mandate. Faculty required training, students had to be informed and strategies needed to be created. Schools scrambled to fulfill the necessary elements of the law. Oh, and by the way, this law was being introduced during the time following a billion dollar deduction of state funded dollars to the schools. In addition, no money was being funded to implement these expectations. Schools were required to make significant changes in the functions and responsibilities around this law, while letting teachers and other school professionals go, cutting services, and reducing already needed programs. This was a state mandated, unfunded program.
Over the next nine months, schools scrambled along with their attorneys to understand the new law and develop their own policies for their schools. Shrinking faculties were told they needed to take on additional responsibilities, while still maintaining their expected job load. Selected school administrators were forced to attend lengthy state sponsored trainings to become Anti-Bullying Coordinators, and then return to their schools to inform and train their staff on the new legislation. Other school professionals, primarily those in counseling, social work, and guidance attended shorter trainings to prepare them for their new roles as Anti-Bullying Specialists. Additionally, forms had to be created, a process for reporting alleged HIB incidents needed to be developed and implemented, and programs for students had to be created. All while these school professionals had to continue the current operation of a school day. Amazingly, these outstanding individuals fulfilled those expected roles. However, it was an unreasonable hope for them to be expected to become experts in HIB, while maintaining their job responsibilities. To this day, the professionals assigned in these roles do so through often in their personal time to ensure compliance with the law.
The legislation is sixteen pages in length and is extremely far-reaching. It covers findings relative to school bullying, requires training on suicide prevention for teaching staff, how schools will be graded, training program requirements, reporting of all elements of the law, creating of new job responsibilities, consequences for student behaviors, a new definition of HIB, policies to be implemented, making retaliation and retribution prohibited, establishment of bullying prevention programs, training courses for school professionals, inclusion of off-school grounds incidents, appointment of specific staff positions, development of school safety teams, teacher certification expectations, development of guidance document, establishment of formal protocol for investigating a complaint, needed in-service workshops and trainings, and compliance of non-public schools. As anyone can see this is a thorough, well thought out law that seems to cover every inch possible with harassment, intimidation and bullying. These legislatures did an exceptional job to ensure the safety of our students. However, as Assemblyman John McKeon shared with me last week, legislatures are only responsible for creating the law. It’s up to every school district within New Jersey to implement its mandate. There are over 2500 schools within 604 school districts in New Jersey (http://www.state.nj.us/education/data/fact.htm). Although the law dictates the necessary steps and measures needed to observe the law, it allows for individual interpretations of alleged HIB investigations. That means, a bullying situation in one school may be perceived as HIB, while an identical situation in another school may not. The law also does not dictate the necessary consequences when an investigation uncovers harassment, intimidation and/or bullying. Again, that means one school may treat the situation with more leniency than another. However, the law is very clear in terms of the expected steps schools need to take when an alleged HIB incident is reported.
One of the most innovative aspects of the law is the compliance needed of any school professional, board member, or vendor when HIB is either directly witnessed or reported. The law demands that the school principal be notified by the end of the school day in order to initiate a formal investigation. The uniqueness of this law requires any individual the obligation to report the alleged situation. The law is very simple, you hear/see something, you say something. There is no room for individual interpretation or ability to provide any type of advice or guidance. Once the principal is notified, a formal report is required to be submitted with notification going to the appropriate parties (generally parents) within 24-48 hours. Following the notification to the parent(s), the school has no more than ten days to complete an investigation. There law is very clear in this expectation and the legislatures were brilliant in their understanding of the importance of an investigation with HIB. Furthermore, the law also clearly states that the alleged HIB does not have to be several occurrences. It only requires a one-time action to initiate an HIB report and investigation. There are numerous ways an alleged HIB case can be reported-- either verbally to a school professional, download a form from the school website, or anonymously. Regardless how the incident is provided, the school must initiate an investigation.
I have always questioned whether school professionals were trained in appropriate investigative skills. Most school staff involved in these roles is social workers, school counselors, nurses, etc. Their skill set is significantly different than that required to do authentic investigations. These professionals are often involved engaged with students in a much different fashion. Their responsibilities require trust from students in order to fulfill their primary roles. For instance, social workers are in the empowerment and relationship building business. They often serve a therapeutic role for students with an element of confidentiality and trust. Their question skill set is significantly different than those needed for an investigation. They often ask open-ended questions that lead a student into a particular direction. When leading an investigation, the old adage is “just the facts, ‘mam.” Their primary function is often in direct competition with these added responsibilities. In addition, since this an unfunded mandate, schools often choose to cut corners because of budgets and only provide the least expensive training that covers the lowest expectation. This means that the investigation process is going to compromised when the person doing the investigation is not appropriately trained.
In July of last summer (2014) I was approached by a number of families regarding their concerns with the Varsity baseball coach from Columbia High School in the South Orange-Maplewood School District. As a national author and speaker on “Bullying in Sports” they came to me for my guidance and direction. My son was a player on the team and I was all too familiar with their concerns. They shared with me their plans to approach the school and get them to investigate the bullying by the coaches their sons (players) experienced. Some of the players graduated that previous year, while a couple players were presently on the team. They knew my son was still on the team, but asked me anyway to consider helping them out. In my book, I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of being a “Game Changer and Being and Upstander.” Following a conversation with my son, we agreed that my assistance was important, but I would not be at the forefront of this group. I would provide the necessary expertise regarding the law and offer them the support needed to get the school to take action.
I personally witnessed the coach screaming, yelling and demeaning players regularly. I saw a player stand up to the coach while going on a tirade against another player to simply provide some “positivity.” However, the coached benched the player for “talking out of line and challenging authority.” In another situation, a parent sent an anonymous letter requesting the coach to minimize the screaming and foul language constantly directed at the players. Instead of owning up to his remarks, his comment back to the team was “if you don’t like my screaming, then don’t play for me.” In other situations, the coach called players inappropriate words referring to the female sex organ. I heard about numerous times players were called out in front of their teammates being blamed for losing a game. In addition, the coach often complained over a lack of talent, screamed at umpires and openly challenged parents that the support for the baseball program. This behavior made a number of players to stop playing baseball leaving the team. The reason why there was limited talent was because he was harassing, intimidating and bullying them to leave the team. In one very serious situation, the coach spoke publically about a player’s alleged injury without permission hurting his college recruiting efforts.
On August 13, 2014 I met with Ms. Elizabeth Aaron (school principal), Mr. Phil Stern (school attorney and anti-bullying coordinator), and Ms. Cheryline Hewitt (assistant principal) to discuss the parents’ concerns about the harassment, intimidation and bullying behavior by the school’s varsity baseball coaches. I expressed my concern about possible retribution towards my son since he was currently on the team. They thanked me for coming in to meet with them and promised me that he will be fine. I urge them to take the parents’ request and complaints seriously and mentioned the HIB law, bullying in sports, and the importance of doing their due diligence in providing a proper investigation. At that moment, since I mentioned the words harassment, intimidation and bullying the principal was required to initiate the protocols required by the NJ Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. According to the law, they had ten days to complete an investigation-- August 23. However, since it was the summer, the law didn’t require the report to be finished until the tenth day of school-- September 15. The principal even took a copy of my book and didn’t even offer to pay. Go figure.
A side note, on September 18 a teacher from Columbia High School was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting three students, with two more coming forward the following day. The story hit the press hard and became a huge distraction for the beginning of school. Given the seriousness of these allegations, it made sense to provide the school more time to fulfill the needed report from my meeting in August. Then on October 9 the ACLU filed a complaint against the South Orange Maplewood School District under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This case was also as serious and accused the school district of alleged racial disparities throughout the district. However, since my meeting was held during the summer I figured the end of October would be reasonable to receive the report. It wasn’t within the ten day time period, but certainly could be provided by then. By mid-November the school still had not provided any type of report. The only response we got was that they were taking the allegations seriously and were on top of it and that the report was forthcoming. Yet, the school year was moving along and things were being put into place for the following spring. During a mandatory meeting held by the coach, players were told about their participation in conditioning and winter workouts. At that time the coach acknowledge the rumors going on around his job, but that “whether you like it or not, I will be the coach for next season.” Three separate players validated the comments and I called Ms. Aaron the following day to notify her of his comments and intimidation towards the players. I reminded her about the length of the time its taken her to complete the report and that it was well beyond the state mandated ten days. She assured me once again she was working on it and to expect it before the end of the year. I also brought up my concern about my son and possible retaliation from the coach and was taken aback that I could actually believe something like that would happen with another adult. I told her that was nice, but if anything happened I would come directly to her.
On January 22 a letter finally arrived, but not one that would please anyone interested in a thorough investigation. The letter stated that through their thorough investigation they were pleased to share that there was no “corroborative” evidence supporting the HIB reported the previous summer. It took them five months to tell us they found nothing and then to say they were “pleased” was overly offending. We later found out that the neither the schools Anti-Bullying Specialist or Anti-Bullying Coordinator did the investigation, but rather the Athletic Director did. That’s right, the Athletic Director is the one that did the so-called investigation. This Athletic Director was the previous head baseball coach, hired the current coach three years ago, and guess what, was a close personal friend. How any administrator thought this was a good idea is beyond me. But wait, there’s more to the story.
On February 11, the group of parents meets with the school attorney/anti-bullying coordinator instead of their right to meet with the Board. He convinces the group that a meeting with him will be more effective and the group could still visit with the board if they’d like. I purposely do not go to the meeting since I continue my role as outside support. He tells the group the investigation is still open and that he was now personally leading it. Later in the month, on February 23, the Board of Education approves the coach to the position. Several parents of this group speak up during the public session, expressing their concerns and all asking for one thing-- to authorize and independent investigation. There were parents who spoke on behalf of the coach as well as alumni players. Those players graduated in 2010 and had the coach when they were freshman, since at that time that was his position in 2007 (eight years ago). However, what was really astonishing was the absence of any current player from the current season or recent past. Not one player currently playing varsity for this coach came to speak on his behalf…not one. Most were together at a house watching the meeting on TV since it was being broadcasted live. A Board member did make a comment about it would be nice to hear from a current player, then a player who was watching the meeting on TV rushed over to offer his thoughts. This young man demonstrated incredible courage and he was also a target of the unacceptable bullying behavior from this coach. He was a senior and was a constant target the season before and already made the decision to not play the coming season. Since his desire to speak was last minute, his comments were unprepared, but he reiterated everything the parents said, most importantly the need for an outside independent investigation. I was also not present at the meeting. I was in Arizona speaking to high school student athletes about bullying in sports and the importance of being a positive leader. When I returned from my trip my son and I spoke and he was relieved that I was not at the meeting. He felt my presence would have harmed his chances on the team. Later that evening the Board unanimously approved the coach.
On March 6, since there was so much snow outside, spring baseball began with tryouts inside the school’s gym. Apparently the timeframe for the tryouts went from March 7-10. On March 11 the roster for the Varsity and JV teams were posted outside the Athletic Director’s door. (Before the results are shared, it’s important to note that my son as a Freshman started on the Freshman team, as a Sophomore he started on the JV team, and as a junior was the starting centerfield for the Varsity team. Inasmuch the coach publically praised him at the end-of-season banquet for being the best outfielder on the team.) At 10am he went to the AD’s office to look for his name on the roster. However, it was not there. He looked over it again and thought it was an oversight. He texted the coach about his name not being on the list asking if he was cut. The coach responded, “yes” and that he could meet with him the following day at 3:15pm. Then my son texted back, “What I didn’t improve? I didn’t tryout well?” The coach simply responded, “if you want to talk about it meet us at 3:15pm tomorrow.” It was 10am on Wednesday morning and he was instructed to sit with this until 3:15pm the following day. He immediately left school, called me and went home. It was the beginning of the biggest disappointment in his life. All he cared about was playing ball with his closest friends in his senior year. I immediately called the school, demanded a meeting with the principal and attorney, and filed a verbal HIB incident report for retaliation and retribution against my son. I drove to the school expecting to speak with someone from the administration, but no one was willing to meet with me. I was agitated, extremely upset and an emotional wreck. I promised that I expected to be heard and someone would be held accountable. I also contacted an attorney who I knew did work on HIB and she took my call.
Anti-bullying educators know the most effective form of intervention and deterrence to bullying is adult involvement. Trust is huge in this area, even more difficult for high school students. We also know that you never but a bully and a target in the same room together, ever. The challenge here is that the bully is the adult coach and the target was my son. As Alex prepared those two days to meet with the coach, I was busy behind the scenes doing everything I could to stop that meeting to ensure it never took place. Furthermore, given the retaliation and retribution, my attorney got right on that and met with Mr. Stern directly. Not only was my son a target of retribution, another senior (also a player who played for the program all three years) was also cut from the team. However, the retaliation he received was directly at him as he spoke out in a confidential meeting with the principal. He shared a letter he wrote about his experiences with this bully coach.
By Friday, March 13 Ms. Aaron and Mr. Stern forced the coaches to put both players back on the team. The meeting lasted a couple of hours and apparently they fought this “kicking and screaming.” However, they principal and school attorney did not waver in their expectations. I received a call from the attorney in the afternoon about the news. The only reason I fought to get my son back on the team was because he wanted to be with his friends and finish his baseball career with his closest friends. He made a decision the year before that he was not going to pursue college baseball and was looking forward to playing ball for the last time.
On Monday, March 16 Ms. Aaron, in her office with Mr. Stern, the coaches, the Athletic Director, Alex and his parents, led a meeting. It lasted approximately 30 minutes. I was greeted nicely by Mr. Stern, but Ms. Aaron didn’t make eye contact with me and barely shook my hand hello. She started the meeting by saying she attended the parents meeting the previous evening. If there was one thing she heard loud and clearly was that parents were not allowed to talk about playing time. She kept focusing on that over and over. Then she started the meeting by asking if Alex had any questions. He had two-- the first was about where he needed to improve and whether or not they would be fair. The first question was dismissive as the answer had nothing to do with Alex’s skill set as a player. Two were hearsay from another person present conditioning and Sunday trainings, the other had to do with tryouts and Alex not being with his group. As Alex heard his comments, he became tense, agitated and frustrated-- rightfully so. The first comment about conditioning was answered by the fact that he had gained 10 pounds through conditioning. He attended conditioning four times a week and if missed one he worked out at the local gym. The other was about his comment from a coach about his hitting. He answered that comment by saying that he just wanted to start this year off on his own and allow himself to clear his head of everyone “giving their coaching” at first. The third was answered by saying the reason why he wasn’t with his group was because he was looking for a bat because he was on-deck. When the question about being fair was answered, the coaches promised they would be. Alex was dismissed, then Ms. Aaron focused the meeting on me. When I came to school looking for Ms. Aaron on that previous Wednesday I was overly emotional. I did my best to remain calm, but given the history of what had not happened with the original report, the so-called investigation of January, etc I was very upset. I honestly don’t remember what I said, but I’m sure it involved inappropriate language and comments. (FYI-- I sent packages to two secretaries who witnessed and received my emotional comments apologizing to them. I also called them directly to offer my regrets. I also apologized to Ms. Aaron the moment I heard about my behavior following a phone call that she made to my ex-wife.) Then she went about talking about my comments and inappropriateness as a parent. I spoke up, accepted responsibility and mentioned that I made apologies to the people that deserved it. It seemed excessive and basically like a forum for her to demonstrate that she had her coaches back. I also made it clear that I expected these coaches to treat Alex fairly and that time would tell if they did that or not. In addition, it was made clear to everyone in that room that it was very unlikely that Alex would ever approach them for help. He’s not that type of kid and that they would have to be proactive with that. The promised they would.
By March 25th it was the beginning of the end for my son. He texted me that evening that he wanted to stop playing baseball because it was not longer fun anymore. He became quick to anger, emotional and was always agitated. I asked him to please reconsider because at that time I thought the best thing for him to do was to stay strong, not quit and finish the season. I didn’t want these coaches to get the best of him and take away something he had worked so hard to achieve. On the evening of March 31, Mr. Stern holds a meeting with ten parents. This is the follow-up meeting from February 11. I attend this meeting since the retaliation behavior from the coaches towards by son. At this meeting Mr. Stern apologizes for how the entire HIB investigation was handled from the beginning. He admits it was much bigger than he anticipated and should have taken it off of Ms. Aaron’s “plate” since she was doing so much. He also shared with us that through his own investigation he has discovered HIB on the baseball team and was going to share it with the Board at the April 27 meeting. He then started on about the points he wants to address at the meeting and get our feedback. However, the group of parents wanted accountability, to understand why the delay, and discuss why the current coaches are still coaching. He tells us his approach is to reform the coaches and train them to do better. We all adamantly disagree. He tells us he meets with these coaches regularly and they will change because of that. I do acknowledge from my professional hat his desire, but explain that bully coaches are not able to change through simple training he was going to provide. I plead with Mr. Stern to share his findings sooner since it was very unlikely that Alex would be able to hold on much longer. He offered to have Alex meet with him directly to encourage him not to quit and let him know that change was imminent. In addition, he promised the parents that we will receive an updated letter prior to spring break (April 17) informing us that the original letter we received on Januayr 22 was incorrect and that his investigation discovered elements of HIB. There are 17 games scheduled between this date and April 27.
The season begins on April 1 and Alex sits the bench. However, his demeanor and attitude are great. He even comes home after the game excited about the team’s chances and how they were going to win state. He also shared with me that he thought he was going to get in the following day, since one of the players seemed to struggle a lot during the game. Deep inside I know that’s not going to happen, but it was so nice to see him happy again about baseball I didn’t want to interfere with that moment. I arrive at this game, knowing Alex was going to sit the bench. Even though he shared his excitement the previous evening. CHS takes and early 4-0 lead. The opponents make three errors in the first inning. It is clearly a team CHS can beat. Alex sits the bench again. Two other seniors get into the game, the same right fielder is in right field. Towards the end of the game, Alex starts texting me that he wants to quit. It’s not fun anymore. The coaches are not going to give him a chance. I text everyone I know who loves Alex to encourage him to stay on the team. I call Phil Stern’s cell phone immediately and tell him what is going on. Mr. Stern tells me that he cannot believe it asks to meet Alex Monday morning, April 6. Alex and I visit him that morning where Alex tells him everything he was experiencing – being ignored, isolated without any communication from the coaches. There’s a saying in sports about coaches who yell. It’s actually a good thing when coaches yell because it’s a sign that they care. However, when they stop yelling it’s time for concern. Not only were the coaches not yelling at Alex, they weren’t even saying hello. Mr. Stern thanks Alex for coming in and meeting, extends his gratitude for his courage and promises that he will see an immediate change during the game later that afternoon.
I arrive at the game with it already in progress. Alex is again on the bench. Alex ends up being the only player to not play in the game. CHS wins 8-0. Alex looks at me during the game and is visibly upset and mouths to me that he wants to quit again. I shake my head and understand why. Following the game, everyone on the team knows Alex is upset. It was clearly obvious. However, the bus is late and they have to wait around on the field until the bus gets there. The team is together standing by the end of the dugout, yet Alex is all alone sitting on the bench. The players know they can’t go over to console Alex because if they do they will be yelled at, or worse benched. We find out later that evening, that the coach was speaking to a team captain (a close friend of Alex) that Alex is not playing because he is pouting and giving off negative vibes. And that he’s not going to play someone like that. He also told this captain to not let Alex interfere with what they have started. I take a picture showing the loneliness and isolation of Alex and text it to Mr. Stern. He can’t believe what is going on with this. As a matter of fact, that’s always his initial comment when anything was ever shared with him about this. There were three coaches at that game, not one took the time to sit with Alex. We later found out that Mr. Stern called the coach earlier that day and instructed him to put Alex in the game. The coach said he would, but didn’t. He ended up using that conversation as another form or retaliation for Alex meeting with Mr. Stern.
The morning of April 7 I download an HIB incident complaint form and fill out another one for retribution and retaliation. That day Alex was a mess. He wanted to quit and wanted nothing to do with the coaches. His mom and I convinced him to write a letter and that I would get Mr. Stern and Ms. Aaron to set up a meeting with everyone that was present at that meeting on March 16. Alex wrote a gut wrenching letter that was quoted in a subsequent news article in the NJ Star Ledger online newspaper NJ.com. The only request we have of him is that he must meet with Ms. Aaron to let her know what has gone on since she made it clear in the meeting that her “name is on top of the school letterhead.” He meets with her Wednesday morning with the intention to leave the team that afternoon. She asks him to return later in the day, which he does. I get a call from him following the afternoon meeting and Ms. Aaron wants to have Alex meet with the coach with her presence. She was aware of the trash talking by the coach to the players, aware of everything that had transpired, and my concern over Alex spending anytime alone with that coach. We agree that as long as he is with Ms. Aaron they can meet. A game is schedule for that afternoon and they would hold the meeting before it started. I wait to hear from him and eventually get a text that he suited up and playing in the game. There’s an unbelievable sense of relief thinking that she was able to actually do something for my son. I arrive at the game. His demeanor is positive and he’s smiling. But he sits the entire game once again. They lost 6-0 and the coach couldn’t even offer my son a little bit of faith that things would change.
The following morning, April 9 Alex texts me first thing in the morning that he wants to talk. I spoke with his mom the night before and she shared with me the conversation she had with him at that time. He came to terms that the coach was not going to change his bullying ways and simply did not love baseball anymore. They took that from him through their bullying tactics, isolation and trash talking. I meet with Alex for lunch to discuss his conversation about quitting. He told me he shared the news with Ms. Aaron before leaving for lunch. I apologize again numerous times, do my best to keep my emotions in tact during the meal as I explain everything that has transpired and my deep concern over the possible long term effect this will have on him, and our relationship. He leaves to go speak to the coaches. His conversation with them went something like this. It was a team practice and he pulled the coaches off to the side. He first thank Mr. F for the meeting the previous day. The basically told them he had given a lot of thought about playing baseball and that he didn’t want to play anymore. He reached out and shook both of their hands and wished them luck. All they said was thanks for coming to us. I was told that after Alex left the team, they didn’t even acknowledge what he did. They just continued on like nothing happened.
I wait for the updated latter to arrive by April 17, when Spring Break begins, but no letter arrives. I am also waiting for the HIB report from the incident of March 11. Again, the ten days were not honored. Mr. Stern invites me to meet with me during spring break on April 22. I visit with him for an hour where he again promises a letter would be forthcoming and that he would also share his comments he plans to provide to the board on April 27. I am privy to other bullying situations still taking place with the other player that was cut, but do not led on to him that I am aware of them. I ask him what he needs to take action-- harassment is harassment. But, alas nothing was going to change. He was committed to the retraining process even though the coaches continued to defy his calls about putting these two players into a game.
On April 27 I attend the BOE meeting that is scheduled to begin at 7:30pm with the expectation of hearing his comments about his update about the January 22 letter. I finally get a letter by 6pm that evening. But it basically placates the parents, but does acknowledge that our efforts have helped raise their awareness of behavior taking place on the baseball team. The public session begins around 11:00pm. Alex’s mom speaks and reads the letter he wrote to the coaches. I offer comments about how the original HIB letter was incorrect and they will be notified later in the evening about that. They hired the coaches without having the correct information. We stay to hear Mr. Sterns remarks. He starts around 1:00am. He promises to be brief and starts going through a power point. He shows a Venn diagram with the HIB and all other laws designed to protect students. Then shows a slide with a number of words on it, with the word COURAGE in big bold letter. Then he talks about how through the past couple of months he has learned that there are many people who have demonstrated courage. That courage needs to be noted and realized in these situations. That’s it, nothing of what he promised us in terms of notifying the board that he found elements of HIB on the baseball team.
A reporter from the Star Ledger is present and decides to write a story about our situation. I reach out to the state about a formal inquiry about the school’s unwillingness to follow the law all throughout this process dating back to the summer of 2014. They are now investigating the school district and will be meeting with them this coming week. However, the damage has been done. My son will never get his senior year back. Of course the team is have a successful season which makes this all that more difficult. It’s difficult because within the culture of sports, winning is everything and it makes coaching a heck of a lot easier. It’s difficult because my son is constantly online look at the game summaries knowing he should have been on that time. It’s difficult because I am an expert on this and I cannot even help protect him from any of this.
I do realize that Alex will move past this and move on with his life. He is attending the University of Arizona in the fall and this will be nothing but a bad memory for him. However, now that I have personally experienced what so many other parents and players have gone through with bully coaches, my convictions are even stronger than before. Sadly though, I have reached out to a number of the state legislatures that co-sponsored and wrote the law. But they either do not respond at all, or simply write a quick email to let me know they will be in touch if they deem necessary. The anti-bullying law that is supposed to be the most effective in the country is nothing when individuals required to follow the law chose not to. A professor of mine from undergrad once said that a law is only as powerful as the individuals responsible to implement it. In this case, this law and those individuals failed my son.