School board passes first reading of volunteer coaches policy change

  • Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Berkeley County School Board voted 6-1 Tuesday for the first of two readings to a policy addition concerning parent volunteer coaches in the district.

School board member Phillip Obie dissented in the vote.

After the reading, the policy addition was made publicly available. The policy would make the high school principal responsible for coordinating volunteers to support programs. The policy says that principals “should not assign volunteer parents of student athletes … to coaching responsibilities at the varsity or junior varsity level within the program in which their son or daughter is participating.” The principal can request an exemption, however, if the parent coach is “determined to be vital to the existence of the program.”

According to board member Doug Cooper, the policy would affect about 26 parent volunteer coaches and, of those, about eight that would likely qualify for the exemption.

About two-dozen concerned citizens showed up at the meeting, which became raucous at times as audience members interrupted board member discussion on the policy.

Board members like Jim Hayes and Cooper said a lot of the dissent against the policy is due to “misinformation.”

“The problem I had was the amount of misinformation people were spreading in the community. There was never any intent to do away with the volunteers. I coached in this district for 12-to-15 years. Volunteers are a part of my program and the school programs. It’s been very upsetting to me that so much information was put out there and some people would spread it the way it was spread,” Hayes said.

Board Chair Kent Murray said the issue with parent volunteers is a district problem and a school problem, where principals have neglected to fill vacant coaching positions with staff.

“We want an employee-based coaching system, and we have to look at ourselves on what are we not doing to fill these vacancies,” Murray said.

A person in the crowd responded: “You can’t buy books, how are you going to pay coaches?”

It was one of several times Murray had to ask the audience to allow the school board to continue discussing the matter.

“Sir, you’ve had your opportunity to speak. Now allow us to make this decision in front of you,” Murray said.

The tension between the board and the audience bled into tension between board members as Obie asked to see all the documents that led to the committee’s decision to recommend approval of the policy.

Board member Kathy Schwalbe said they only reviewed the draft of the policy. Obie again asked to see all of the information that went into the decision, and Murray responded:

“Pick up a newspaper.”

Obie was the only board member to publicly side with the audience.

“We’re trying to fix something that seems to have worked for a hundred years,” he said. Obie earned applause and a standing ovation from the crowd after saying: “Nothing’s gone wrong.”

Cooper said he would like to have some of the language clarified to allay any concerns. Members reminded the audience that a second reading will be needed, and that will take place likely in July.

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