There is nothing worse than attempting to cover a personnel dispute where one side cannot talk and only self-serving pieces of information get out to form, at best, a skewed picture. This is the case in the once again controversy over Davis High Volleyball Coach Julie Crawford.
Like most of these disputes, we will probably never know what really happened, but we know enough, I think, to see critical problems here with the way things were handled. The fact that this is happening again only underscores the apparent failure by the school district and school board to fix things last summer.
The message, however, sent by the school board in closed session yesterday begins to send a strong message. Not only did four board members vote in favor of hearing the appeal, but one board member did not vote – the one who should have gotten out of this far sooner.
“Nancy Peterson was absent because she recused herself from public comment, closed session and voting on this matter,” Gina Daleiden, Board President, told the Vanguard in a statement. That is too little too late, but it finally acknowledges the inherent conflict that has existed from the start.
The other strong message was the last line: “The Board encourages the parties to come together to find a reasonable resolution that is in the best interest of the students and the School District.”
The message suggests to us that the board sees this as a personal dispute between a school board member and a coach.
Last summer, after much controversy, the board voted 3-1 to reinstate the coach, with Nancy Peterson being the dissenting vote. This followed a long string of events in which Ms. Peterson – a board member with a child on the team – took the lead in singling out the coach.
So then, this past summer, allegedly Ms. Crawford would then cut Nancy Peterson’s daughter from the team.
Here is the crux of the problem, because Nancy Peterson meddled in the coaching situation rather than staying out of it and allowing an administrator and potentially her board colleagues to make an impartial determination, so any action by the coach is going to seem retaliatory. But what if she had legitimate reasons for cutting the board member’s daughter?
It is here where we are teased with a little information, but the Davis Enterprise’s article does a tremendous disservice to Ms. Crawford and the community. They focus a lot of heat, based on a very limited finding from the investigator, and they fail to fully scrutinize the report.
The Enterprise reported yesterday that “Julie Crawford retaliated against her leading critic, school board member Nancy Peterson, by cutting Peterson’s daughter — a varsity player since she was a sophomore — from the girls roster last summer, a school district investigation concluded.”
But, strangely, the investigation was concluded in November but it was not until February 5 that Ms. Crawford was told her service agreement would not be renewed. Parents found out about this the day before tryouts were going to begin. So the timing of this decision does not make a lot of sense.
Next, the Enterprise reports, it “has obtained a letter from Best summarizing attorney Alex Sperry’s investigation and which describes the violation of board policy that may have cost Crawford her coaching job.”
The paper reports, “The investigation was triggered by a Sept. 3 complaint filed by longtime Blue Devil volunteer sports doctor Rob Peterson, Nancy’s husband and Ms. Peterson’s father, after Ms. Peterson was cut from the volleyball team.”
The question was posed, well, who leaked the document to the paper? The Vanguard learned on Thursday that the parent who filed the complaint is the one who leaked to the paper. So now you have the husband of a sitting school board member leaking a private personnel document to the newspaper. Again, unseemly.
But adding further fuel to the fire is the conclusion of the investigator that “more likely than not, Coach Crawford’s decision to cut Ms. Peterson from the varsity volleyball team was influenced, at least in part, by Coach Crawford’s feelings about Nancy Peterson.”
That is not exactly a strong finding. “More likely than not” and the fact that he somehow – and we are not informed as to how or in what way, determined that her decision was “influenced” – a weak term to begin with, watered down further by “at least in part.”
Adding to the drama is the fact that Ms. Crawford believed, up until last week, right before tryouts, that she would be the coach.
The bottom line is this: whether Julie Crawford was in the right or the wrong, the fact that the paper would print a leak that emanated from the girl’s father and the husband of a sitting board member, who herself is right in the middle of the controversy now for a second time, is quite appalling.
The paper did not do the community, Ms. Crawford and even Ms. Peterson any favors by printing any of this. It sheds very little light on the situation; the investigator’s findings were appallingly thin.
In my view it is Ms. Crawford who is the victim here still. Last year an anonymous poster suggested that the senior Ms. Peterson was, in fact, the bully in this.
They wrote, “Ms. Crawford has been treated horribly by the board, by the district, and by Ms. Peterson specifically for quite some time now. This was all due to the fact that everyone took Ms. Peterson at her word and never questioned this situation.”
But it is actually worse than that. By inserting herself into the situation, Ms. Peterson made it impossible for Ms. Crawford to do her job. It might be easy enough to determine if the cut was warranted, but what if Ms. Peterson had become a detriment to her team?
Moreover, it would seem awfully dumb to get your job back and then vindictively cut your adversary’s child from the team. She had to know that any decision she made with regard to a cut would have scrutiny and perhaps the full resources of the district brought to bear on her.
But this illustrates exactly why Nancy Peterson should have stayed out of the involvement with the coach at the beginning of all of this. It puts her in a quasi-conflicted position and makes it harder for the coach to do her job without the appearance of retaliation.
Now Ms. Peterson’s teen daughter ends up having her personal life scrutinized in the local media, Ms. Peterson has obviously tacitly acknowledged the problem by finally recusing herself, and the other four members of the school board clearly now see this for it was it is.
My guess is Ms. Crawford will be reinstated and the school board and district need to put a stop to this nonsense. The district had to re-write its conflict of interest policy when a high level Associate Superintendent used the business office to start up his own business using district personnel to assist him.
The district now must set a similar high bar for school board members’ actions involving personnel that work with their kids. It is the only way these ugly incidents will not repeat themselves.
—David M. Greenwald reporting