Owen J. Roberts School Board mulls nepotism policy for parents who coach

SOUTH COVENTRY — The Owen J. Roberts School Board’s legislative and policy committee meeting was packed Monday night as two potential policies regarding district coaches with sons or daughters on their teams were debated.

The nepotism policies would carry over from athletic teams to all extra-curricular activities with advisors, as well.

Most who spoke at the meeting were district parents concerned about preventing preferential treatment a student might get if their mother or father coaches a team or advises an activity.

“The policy you employ needs to be the checks and balances that are not existing today,” said parent Kathleen Waid.

She said there is an area of the district where there have been “continuing complaints ... where change has not evolved.”

School board member Doug Hughes, the chairman of the legislative and policy committee, said specific coaches or advisors could not be discussed at the meeting due to that falling under the umbrella of the personnel committee.

Two policies were presented to the legislative and policy committee.

One proposal, drawn up by Waid and another parent, Lisa Huzzard, modifies an existing policy, while the second was put together by administrators drawing on surrounding school districts’ policies. The latter policy is completely new.

“We tried to come up with a criteria where all students are treated equally but also make ourselves available for all potential coaches and advisors that are available,” OJR Superintendent Michael Christian said. “It’s a fine line we have to walk, that every school district has to walk. So that’s why we have a list of criteria in there that the administration has to go off of.”

Under the revised policy drawn up by the parents, no coaches or advisors could be considered if their tenure in the desired position was “concurrent” with their child or the program requires a try-out or selection “where the [coach or advisor] would evaluate their own child.”

The new policy drawn up by the district administration says that parents may not be the head coach or advisor unless they are recommended by a building principal or athletic director and they qualify for one of five exceptions laid out in the policy.

Among those exceptions are having already been a coach for four years or the candidate has already “distinguished himself/herself with years of service as a school district, college, or professional coach/advisor in his/her respective sport prior to the coaching/advising of his/her child at the secondary level.”

Another exception allowed for the hiring of a parent if they are the “only qualified applicant for the position in question and the district athletic director and/or the building principal determines that the parent would be the best candidate under all circumstances.”

There was some discussion over whether some of the policy was too “subjective.”

School board member William Kleinfelter said he was concerned that those exceptions might leave a “back door wide open” for some candidates and make the policy moot.

Pamela Wolfe, another board member, said she didn’t think that. She felt the board needed to make a policy as a guideline and trust district administrators to make the decisions.

Tammy Kurtz, who teaches in the Phoenixville Area School District, had concerns that a policy might be too limiting.

“You trust the system and hope reviews are being done,” Kurtz said.

All sports and activities have some degree of an evaluating process for the coaches or advisors attached to them, Christian said.

Christian, a longtime swim coach, said he recognized that trying to give everyone fair playing time is difficult.

“Nothing is cut and dry,” he said. “You try to make it as objective as possible but it’s not always possible.”

Christian cited instances like putting together relays for track or swimming or the selection of officers in clubs.

Mark Petrocelli has coached sports for 35 years and supports coaches in the district, especially its wrestling program. Knowing himself, though, Petrocelli has some concerns about parents coaching their own children.

“If you’ve tried to coach your own child, it’s the most difficult thing in the world to do,” he said. “As the stakes get higher, as you move up into high school, if you try to coach at that level, scholarships are available, they get their name in the paper. You’re going to make different decisions. I don’t care who you are, it’s human nature.”

No decisions were made Monday night. Hughes said the policies will be discussed in the next committee-of-the-whole meeting.

“It’s a great debate to have and it’s multifaceted,” he said.

Check out a Storify recap of the meeting.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.