School Committee Chair Anne Musella is asking the state Department of Education (RIDE) to tighten rules regulating coaches following news last week of allegations against a former assistant volleyball coach accused of sexually harassing players.
In an email* to state Sen. Bridget Valverde, who represents much of East Greenwich, Musella wrote:
“In the wake of the recent determination that an East Greenwich assistant athletic coach sexually harassed students, I urge RIDE and our General Assembly to close a current loophole, and create a mechanism to alert other Local Educational Agencies to these and other offenses that are not captured in a BCI check. Absent such a reporting mechanism, other school districts can unknowingly hire these coaches, who may then be in a position to victimize more students.”
Musella was referring to the Rhode Island Educator Mandatory Report Form, which applies to teachers and other school staff but not to athletic coaches such as the assistant volleyball coach, Donovan Baker. Right now coaches (paid or volunteer) must complete a criminal background check (BCI). The RI Educator Mandatory Report Form provides a broader picture of a potential employee.
In addition to a person’s criminal history, the form asks about any instances of
- sexual or romantic activity between a child or student;
- negligent or malicious physical injury to child/student;
- the existence of any DCYF Child Abuse and Neglect Tracking System (CANTS) report
- notice of intent to dismiss, suspend, or place on leave for misconduct
- resignation/retirement/separation from employment after allegation of misconduct
The existence of such a form may not prevent an initial hire but it could help other districts avoid hiring someone who proves problematic.
Musella’s email – in which she said she was not speaking for the whole School Committee, which has not yet met to discuss this in open session – also referred to the R.I. Interscholastic League (RIIL), the nonprofit organization that runs secondary school sports. According to RIIL executive director Michael Lunney, they work closely with RIDE but are an independent entity. “High school principals voluntarily pledge to follow RIIL rules and regulations,” he explained.
RIDE used to have a certification process for coached, said Lunney, of which the only requirements were that the coaches have first aid and CPR training. Since RIIL already required those things, the state ended up dropping its certification program.
Lunney said RIIL’s regulations come from the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS). “We’ve gotten in line with the national certifications, most of which have to do with the health and safety of kids,” he said. “We also have to satisfy state law regarding concussions and sudden cardiac arrest.”
Between RIIL and NFHS, “we offer a ton of training,” Lunney said.
He said NFHS recently introduced a Level 1 coaching certification available to coaches who would like to be national certified and that RIIL is looking at adopting those requirements.
Lunney declined to comment on the EGHS volleyball coach situation, other than to say, “These situations are unacceptable. Things like this are really disturbing.”
*Musella shared her email with EG News.
I appreciate the foresight and effort to close these loopholes. Thank you, Anne!