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BOE Hears Bullying Complaints

Syosset school board members said that the district has received complaints from some parents about “bullying” by some athletic coaches in the district, but those who complained have done so anonymously, making specific action difficult.

School board members decided to hold further meetings on the issue, which was in part sparked by the controversy surrounding Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, who was fired after he was seen in videos bullying players.

Trustee Alan Resnick and School Board Vice President April Neuendorf said the board has received numerous complaints from parents who wish to remain anonymous in fear of retribution from coaches.

“It seems to be the same people over and over again,” Resnick said.

Syosset School District’s Director of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation, Richard Schaub, addressed the Syosset board last Wednesday evening to give an update and perspective on how the athletic department monitors the professionalism and ethical practices of coaches.

Schaub was also faced with serious concerns from board members and parents of students in the district about various complaints regarding certain coaches’ practices.

“The primary goal and objective of all our coaches and athletic department is the health and safety of our kids – the supervision of our kids is our number on priority, it supersedes any and all other goals and accomplishments,” Schaub said.

School Board President Michael Cohen went as far to say that those complaining about coaches have been “literally petrified” from coming forward in fear of consequences affecting their role on the team.

Neuendorf asked Schaub what the procedure is for complaints issued about certain coaches, to which he replied: “The coach is brought in, the situation is discussed, a plan is enacted, and if that plan can be brought forward and result in improvement, then we’ll do that.”

Trustee Joshua Lafazan asked Schaub about the possible practice of coaches discouraging student athletes for taking vacations with their family on school breaks and missing practices, and often punishing them by taking away playing time on the field, or starting roles.

“When people miss practice for any reason other than family, health or religion, they’re risking losing a position and another person is playing that position,” Schaub responded.

Offering advice on the best solution to correcting potential problems with coaches, Schaub encouraged anyone with concerns to call the athletic department and alert him of any issues.

“My door is always open to anyone, and we want to help in anyway we can to make things better,” Schaub said.

One Syosset resident following the presentation by Schaub voiced her concerns about parents complaining “over the years about the use of “bullying, abuse and cursing by the coaching staff towards our children – there needs to be some policy in place to correct this.”

Superintendent of Schools Carole Hankin expressed her disapproval of anonymous letters, stating: “I understand why they want to remain anonymous, however if you have an issue, you need to tell someone - we can’t address things we don’t know about.”

Hankin then stated she intends to hold a meeting with the Schaub, school principals and other administrators, with the purpose of “going through how we can fix the process.

People are unhappy and somehow it's not getting fixed.  We need to find out how serious this is, and come up with solutions.” Hankin commented Schaub’s role as the athletic director, saying he has done a “fantastic job.”

Schaub has been an athletic director for over 23 years, and has coached for over 50 seasons, including 20 years as a head football coach, 18 years as varsity softball coach, as well as high school basketball and middle school.  He has coaches both male and female teams.

“If nothing else, my experience has given me a basis to draw on. I can relate to what that coach and what that team is going through,” Schaub said.

According to Schaub, the district has over 2,500 student athletes and over 113 teams, making their athletic program one of the largest in NY State.

Schaub explained that all coaches must adhere to NY State Public High School Athletic Association Rules and Regulations, Nassau County Section VIII Rules and Regulations, as well as Syosset Union Free School District’s own sets of athletics rules and regulations.  

He then boiled the essence of these rules down into five core standards: Set a positive example on and off the field; be aware that the coach is representing the school district, school and student body; avoid behavior that will incite players, opponents or spectators; demonstrate sportsmanship; and be ethical and professional when dealing with student athletes on a daily basis.

Schaub said these rules and regulations are reviewed at pre-season coaches meetings, individual meetings and for new hires.  He also explained that each coach is reviewed at the end of the year, the athletic department has mentoring programs for coaches, and that they have roughly 125 coaches each year, not all of which return the following year.

“I’ve encountered many coaches over many years, where some have said ‘I’ve been doing it this way for 20 years. Maybe they were doing it wrong and we’ve got to look at it again,” Schaub said.  “The 20-year rule does not apply.”