Assistant volleyball coach’s inappropriate behavior lasted four years
Supt. Alexis Meyer announced Friday the district has banned Girls and Boys Volleyball coach Justin Amaral and assistant coach Donovan Baker after an investigation showed Baker harassed different players on the Girls team who were as young as 14 over a several-year period, and Amaral, Baker’s direct supervisor, failed to respond to complaints about Baker.
The letter was co-signed by School Committee Chair Anne Musella (find the letter here: Letter to EG Families).
According to the letter, the district learned of the harassment after parents reported it last November, after the end of the Girls Volleyball season. Upon learning of the accusations, the district contacted the East Greenwich police and the Department of Children, Families, and Youth (DCYF), and notified Baker that he was banned from the high school and from contacting any students.
The school district hired lawyer Aubrey Lombardo to investigate the allegations. (Lombardo’s firm Henneous, Carroll and Lombardo was subsequently hired as lawyer for the school district, upon the departure of Matt Oliverio last fall.) During her two-month investigation, Lombardo interviewed current and former athletes, parents, coaches, administrators, and other staff.
The investigation found Baker’s behavior constituted sexual harassment in violation of Title IX (the federal civil rights law that prohibits sexual discrimination in education and educational activities), the district’s policy on social media, and his responsibilities as a coach as outlined in the EGHS Athletic Handbook.
East Greenwich News was given an eight-page summary of the investigation*, which found that during the four years he was assistant coach, Baker:
- “kissed or forcibly attempted to kiss” three girls;
- touched one girl on her thigh under a blanket while they were on school grounds;
- said about one of the players he was coaching that she had a “nice ass” and a “perfect body”;
- told two players he was interested in a romantic relationship and would “wait for them until they turned 18”;
- targeted many different girls, including the entire JV team during the 2018-19 season, “all of whom were subjected to [Baker’s] text messages which came in every day at all hours of the day.”
- harassed certain players specifically – each of them said he initiated communication with them constantly, “focused on intimate topics outside of volleyball.” In some cases, Baker’s actions “evolved into a focused pursuit of a romantic and sexual relationship”;
- sent a message to one student saying he was “so f******* mad” after she purposely left messages unread in order to avoid interactions with him.
The investigation found consistent information gleaned from interviews with various students and former students and screenshots of social media messages Baker had sent to different girls constituted sexual harassment as defined by EGSD Policy 1215 and Title IX. In addition, the district’s social media policy (#10310) prohibits district employees from communicating with EGSD students. Baker repeatedly violated that policy by communicating with students via Snapchat and Instagram.
Amaral and Baker were hired in 2018 and coached the Girls Volleyball team for four seasons. Coaches in East Greenwich schools are hired for a season; as soon as the season is over they are no longer employed by the district. If they want to coach in a subsequent season, they have to go back through the hiring process. In this case, they were initially hired by then-Athletic Director Chris Cobain for the first two seasons and by current AD Casie Rhodes for the past two seasons. As is standard with all people who work or volunteer in the schools, both coaches had to obtain a clear BCI background check.
The investigation did not find any complaints about Baker’s behavior that went beyond the team until last November. However, it also found players over the years had widespread knowledge about some aspects of Baker’s behavior. Some students said they were afraid of the repercussions if they were to say anything.
Meyer said the district was putting several new safeguards in place, including “mandatory annual training for all athletes, coaches, and assistant coaches about policies, procedures, and expectations on and off the playing fields, including guidelines for appropriate communication and interaction between coaches and students. The training will outline procedures for any athlete to report inappropriate behavior without fear of retaliation. Finally, we are in the process of reviewing policies and practices related to outside interactions between employees and students.”
In addition to banning the two coaches from working in the district again, Meyer said the investigative report has been sent to the Department of Children, Families and Youth (DCYF), the Department of Education (RIDE), Rhode Island Interscholastic League (RIIL) and USA Volleyball. No charges have been filed, according to EG police.
In her letter, Meyer said, “… our top priority has been to protect the privacy and safety of the students and families involved, and we ask all members of the community to do the same.”
*Out of respect for student privacy, East Greenwich News is choosing not to share the full summary.
Call or write your Senator today and ask for their support for RI – S2219, which if passed, would make it illegal for teachers and coaches to have sexual contact with minors 14 and up. Show them this story. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jessica de la Cruz, a powerful advocate for parents everywhere.
That’s not illegal now? Isn’t that already sexual assault or statutory rape?
I see it is beginning to come to light what administrators and employees are doing at EGHS. Meyer and her cronies are allowing closed-door (no chaperone) meetings with our children. I have a letter to Meyer from the ACLU too.
So now we can just make stuff up about a serious legal case where children were victimized to legitimize dislike for admin?
Close-door meetings are for protection of those involved. It is the students choice whether or not they want their parents there.
What the heck are you talking about Stephanie? I’ve no clue who you are but whatever you are taking about has zero relevance here. Maybe just show some compassion for the volleyball kids?
Seriously. I’m dumbfounded.
This is irrelevant and insensitive to the topic at hand.
This is an awful situation. I’m grateful for the bravery of the children who came forward to put an end to it. They undoubtedly helped protect many other kids from his predatory ways. I hope those impacted can find some peace. These girls deserve nothing but our support and gratitude.
Carla-these are the kind of comments we need. Thank you for your empathy and understanding.
I feel for these young ladies who should NEVER have to deal with this type of abuse. What I question was how this was allowed to go on for 4 years. Where were the school officials? What disturbs me even more is why wasn’t the whole EG School community informed last November of what was going on! Why the secrecy and why didn’t the EGSC inform parents and our community so anyone affected could come forward? This stinks ala NK affair! If Ms. Lombardo did investigate last Nov. why are we just finding out this now? What else are they not telling us? Can we trust the School Committee? As tax payers and parents, we must demand answers and a start would be being open and transparent and provide the whole report, with names redacted to protect those involved, and get an honest answer to what has transpired. If not we can no longer trust the EGSC and school officials. Heck we paid for this investigation! We must have answers and protect our children!
I am not a legal expert. Given the nature of what happened and the fact that children are involved, I imagine there are protocol that must be followed to protect them. Nothing of this smells of foul play. Abuse, sadly, often goes on undetected for a long time. Predators are experts at hiding what they’re doing and being manipulative. If we could always catch them immediately, we’d live in a different world.
I have a child on the volleyball team and was aware that something was happening. I shelved my personal concerns because I knew my child was safe, the creeps had been removed, and that the experts handling the situation would be in contact with impacted parties. I imagine any victims and people involved have been well aware of what’s going on this whole time.
What seems untoward is using this traumatic experience as a way to throw shade on our district leadership without a full understanding of what is legally allowed and required. I have no doubt people deeply wounded by this have been in the know. Those peripherally impacted knew enough at the time as well. The wider public knows now when it’s appropriate for them to know (not by a standard set by our district but legal standard I imagine). What people feel entitled to know vs what they’re legally allowed to know in an investigation of this nature are two different things.
Well said Carla.
The matter was brought to the school administration in November. The attorney interviewed many parents, kids, and other school personnel which took several months. She then had to write a 200 page report to present to the superintendent. All this took countless hours. The only reason there was no public statement at the time they were alerted to the situation was to protect the victims involved. And people need to stop asking why no criminal charges were brought against the coach. It’s not on the school to do that.
Why can’t the taxpayer know who knew this was going on? The School Committee works for us unless you don’t understand that. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and as taxpayer we should demand the full report. There are ways to protect the kids’ names but as residents and taxpayers we should demand to know all the facts. I thought this new EGSC was going to be transparent or are we going to have another NK scenario?
And I will say it as someone who has daughters, why NOT are there criminal charges being brought? My God 14 yrs old!
Because, as Carla said, what you feel entitled to know and what you’re legally allowed to know are 2 different things. This is NOT akin to what happened in NK and as someone with first hand knowledge of the situation, the administration handled this swiftly and appropriately. Criminal charges were not filed BECAUSE THE VICTIM CHOSE NOT TO PURSUE THAT AVENUE.
It was the parents who started the school system to take action. It is so important for children to talk to their parents, always. So thanks to those parents and their children and to the school administrators for taking action.
We must teach our children how to protect themselves because they can not always depend on institution policies to do so.
So much gratitude and respect for the girls who came forward and spoke out.
Kuddos to the EG News for reporting this story and all the available details in such a timely manner. It is awful that something like this took place, and I hope everyone who has been impacted gets the support they need.
People need to realize that some of their comments and questions are actually hurtful to those impacted. If you don’t like our current leadership, you want them out…go for it, have a field day. But do not distort this traumatic event to serve your purpose. It only shows a lack of care or concern for the well being of those involved. The children impacted read this site, their peers, their peers’ parents – they should not have to be subjected to any second guessing or doubt about their experience. I trust their parents to have made the best decisions for their families. This bizarre twisting of this event to point fingers is a new low. Unless you’re a lawyer or have the unfortunate lived experience of how a title IX case works, then anything here is conjecture.
Thank you, Carla. People seem to forget that there are victims in all of this. The public does NOT have the right to every detail no matter their taxpayer status.
These two should have been fired a long time ago – for stupidity. It’s hard to believe that after years of ME TOO and “no means no” that men still expect to get away with this behavior. Are they living in 1950?