Faced with mothers complaining their daughters were being bullied in a cheerleading program and that discipline handed out is unduly harsh, McKeesport Area school board members have agreed to take a look at policies and rules governing all athletic programs in the district.
None of the cheerleading coaches were at May's school board meeting, but plenty of complaints were lodged by mothers who said their daughters had suffered from what they called bullying.
One mother, Amanda Webb, said she had a problem with the way her ninth-grade daughter was dismissed from the squad by a fellow student.
Webb said her daughter practiced with the squad all summer and “they just threw her away.”
Webb admitted her daughter had been disciplined the previous year, but said the rules preventing her daughter from participating in cheerleading in the following school year were too harsh.
“My daughter was not removed from any other sport or activity, she was still able to continue on with volleyball and go to her banquet, she still ran indoor and outdoor track,” she said.
Webb said she confronted the coaching staff about bullying issues and was told there was no problem.
She said she thinks the coaches should be held accountable for “failing to encourage positive direction and team building.”
“I didn't realize there was a bullying problem until I got involved in social media discussions with other parents in the district,” Webb said.
Webb said she met with Athletic Director Charlie Kiss and told him she felt the bylaws need to be amended, specifically, regarding the process of notifying a student they are being removed from a particular group.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Tia Wanzo and Board President Joe Lopretto told the parents the rules are stated in contracts between the district and the students' parents.
School Director Mindy Sturgess said she is aware of the discussion and agrees that it isn't fair to have different standards for different groups.
“I'm sure we agree with what you're saying, but in the beginning of the year, every parent signed a document that states what can happen if they (students) get into trouble,” School Director Jim Brown said.
Brown said he does not agree that student suspensions should carry over to the following school year and said he is “100 percent with Mindy (Sturgess) on getting everything equal ... across the board.”
On the recommendation of the district administration, school directors voted to approve the hiring of Sade Banks as cheerleading coach and Tayla Rouse as assistant cheerleading coach for 2019-2020.
Neither Banks nor Rouse was present, and Wanzo noted that it was unfair to discuss coaching styles or methods without the coaches there to respond. “Let's move on,” Wanzo said.
Gary Matta, district solicitor, said there needs to be a consistent set of rules for all of the district's athletic teams.
Sturgess said she has requested a review of the school constitution for every sport. “I don’t think it's fair to treat one group of students one way and another group a different way,” she said.
Matta said the board needs additional time to review information before they figure out the best way to move forward. “There are clearly issues that need to be reviewed,” he said. “The board is aware there are possible personnel issues and some possible student issues.”
One of the problems may be that different advice may have been passed down over the years by many different coaches, Superintendent Mark Holtzman Jr. said.
Although each athletic program has rules to live by, he said, there were many “little pieces of information that created this mess.”
Holtzman added there may also have been a “disconnect” between students, parents and the coaches.
“There are some decisions that could have been made better and differently, maybe, by everybody, for what it's worth,” he said.
Lopretto thanked Webb and other parents for attending the meeting to voice their concerns. “Everyone wants to complain (but) no one comes to the meetings,” he said.
Richard Finch Jr. is a freelance writer who covers news from McKeesport Area School District and North Versailles Twp. for Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published May 30, 2019.