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.