Several students and parents came out to Ferndale's Board of Education meeting on Monday night to express their support for a recently fired girls basketball coach.
The Ferndale High School girls varsity coach was fired Oct. 1 because of 'inappropriate text messages' sent to a student, according to the district. The district has not released the name of the coach.
Stephanie Hall, director of community relations for Ferndale Schools, said the coach was fired "after a player and her parent met with the principal to report receipt of inappropriate texts from him over the weekend."
Students held signs during the meeting in support of the coach, with messages including "Bring Back Coach" and "Help Us Prove The Wrongful Termination of Coach."
During public comment, parents and students described positive experiences with the coach—who also has children in the district—and asked that he get to tell his side of the story.
One parent said during public comment that she always felt her children were "in good care" with the coach and said he helped her quiet and shy 14-year-old daughter "feel very important."
"I've never had a problem with (the coach) ever," she said. "What is inappropriate text messaging? How do we resolve this and how do we fix it?"
Kym Stewart said her daughter has been bulled in school and said the coach stepped in to help her. "The only person she could talk to was (him)," she said.
Ferndale parent Rachel Baffield said the coach was a "strong advocate for the children."
"I believe that this is a misunderstanding," she said. "He's an outstanding man. ... He's been very influential in my life and the lives of my children."
The coach's wife also spoke out, saying the firing was based on a "one-sided investigation" that didn't include students or parents.
"When does procedural due process come into effect?" she asked. "Do we or do we not live in a democratic society?"
She said after the meeting that the ordeal has been difficult for her family. She said the text was not intended for the student.
"It has been a nightmare," she said. "This was the first time I have ever seen my husband cry."
One student who spoke at the meeting said she started playing basketball in 7th grade and said the coach helped her come out of her shell.
"He created us into a family. Our team was just the biggest family. I didn't have a dad figure at home but he was my basketball father. He's always been there for us when we needed it," she said. "I've been told since first grade that everyone makes mistakes, and this is just one of them."
Superintendent Gary Meier thanked the students and parents for attending the meeting.
"I appreciate the fact that all of you came tonight to expess your opinions and share your concerns with us," he said.
Meier said some of the details involved in the situation are things that "we cannot and would not talk about in public."
He also explained that coaches in the district are not directly employed by the schools but instead by contracting agency PCMI Educational Contracting Specialists.
"It is troubling to me to hear that [the agency] did not engage in any specific dialogue with the coach," Meier said.
He said they will follow up with the agency about their due process and termination procedures.
Deputy Superintendent Henry Gold said he spoke with the parents of the student who received the texts and said "it was the recommendation of both the athletic director and principal that there needed to be a change."
Raven Brinkley, who plays on the girls basketball team, said she has known the coach since eighth grade.
"(He) is an uplifting person and an encouraging person," she said. "He is more than a coach to me."
Stephanie Hall wrote in a press release after the firing that the coach had been the employee of an employment agency for the past two years and was released on the recommendation of the school district.
"As with all other public school workers in Michigan, this coach had undergone a criminal history background check prior to his employment," Hall wrote.
The coach was not a teacher at the school.
Hall said after the meeting that the district is not releasing details of the situation, but said it was a "text conversation" and that the texts did appear to be meant for the student.
She said she hopes that families, who she acknowledged were advocating "passionately and clearly" for the coach, will understand that details are not being released.
"The details are not being publicized by the district," she said.
Hall said school staff had met with the basketball team to let them know of the firing. She said the open coach position has been posted.