It was around 9 p.m. June 9 when an office colleague texted me about a report she had just seen on NECN TV. I hadn’t yet seen the news article in The Boston Globe. The subject involved allegations against a Milton High School girls’ lacrosse coach. The information was scant, but enough to let readers and viewers know that the coach had been fired from her coaching duties for excessive texting to student-athletes.
The statement on TV and print was on the school administration’s letterhead:
”On Tuesday, June 4, 2019, it was brought to our attention that a Milton High School girls’ lacrosse coach was allegedly texting and contacting students on the lacrosse team excessively during the day, evening and on weekends and may have engaged in inappropriate conversations and inquired about our students’ personal lives. Upon learning of these allegations, the administration took immediate action by removing the coach from her duties and by conducting an investigation. This investigation is ongoing. We have notified the Milton Police Department and appropriate state agencies.
“We are disappointed and concerned by this alleged conduct. The district takes very seriously its duty and obligation to care for our student-athletes. We continue to remain committed to our efforts to ensure a safe learning community.”
The four people I emailed for information as soon as I learned about this from my colleague included Superintendent of Schools Mary Gormley. A bit after 10 p.m., an MPS administrative associate emailed me the press release, the source of NECN and the Globe’s news story.
It is not that I felt scooped by the Milton-centered report in other media reports. Rather, what is most troubling is how the situation was handled, from the school district, namely, the school superintendent.
To start, it should have been the superintendent herself who sent this to me. And, all media outlets should have received this at the same time, instead of piecemeal. And, it should have been sent as soon as the coach was let go, not days afterward.
Most important, is that the coach, not named in the press release but enough news to start the rumor mill and hearsay chain, never had a chance to defend herself. She was being tried in the court of public opinion. The school department, in its flawed policy and handling by the administration, affected the coach’s reputation.
I made more emails on June 10 to get answers to my questions, to the school and Milton police departments. An email from the school department arrived that afternoon: “The MHS lacrosse coach is an internal/personnel issue and is being handled as such. We only sent a statement on Sunday to any organization who requested it.”
But how would an organization, such as the Milton Times, know to request a press release on a news item unless it was announced by another media outlet? By not releasing such a statement to all media and early on, the information leaked out in a way that permanently damaged the personal and professional reputation of the lacrosse coach. The local newspaper needed to be kept in the loop.
If in trying to protect the coach's reputation, the opposite happened. All of the lacrosse coaches’ names were left on the MHS athletics website through most of Monday and yesterday. And, it is noticeable that the media outlets that received the press release on the coach were large and regional. Did the person filing the complaint or known to the complainant or who knew about the complaint tip off the largest-reaching media, which prompted the press release by the school department?
Is there a policy in place or a handbook that the coaches and the student-athletes are issued or have to read before coaching and playing, respectfully? How are all athletic coaches compensated? To date, no one from the school administration or athletic department has answered these questions.
What the administration has done, as of 4:25 p.m. June 11, is issue another press release, promising to do better. An email from Superintendent Gormley read: “Good evening. Attached please find a follow up letter sent today to all parents/guardians of the girls Lacrosse Team members.”
The letter was signed by MHS Principal James Jette.
We are writing today to inform you of the outcome of the investigation into our lacrosse program and girls lacrosse coach.
“The findings of the investigation indicate that Milton Public Schools’ communication protocols for coaches were not followed as some of the text messages transmitted by the coach were not related to the team and were personal. While the text messages were not criminal or sexual in nature, the district does not condone communications that could result in our student-athletes feeling uncomfortable. Clearly defined boundaries between our coaching staff and student athletes are expected and lead to a positive climate and experience. As we wind down from the current school year and plan for next year with new coaching staff, the District will take this opportunity to reinforce our protocols regarding professional communications between coaches and student-athletes.
“We look forward to your continued support.”
Until a policy of how to fairly handle such a situation is enacted, all who work within the Milton Public School district are at peril. To put oneself in the supervision of a student at any grade is to place oneself in harm’s way, open to a career-damaging accusation of any sort.
– Lisa D. Connell