Falmouth School Board hears claims coach bullied students

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FALMOUTH — A Falmouth High School field hockey coach who has been accused of bullying students received a show of support from colleagues, parents and former players this week, while the School Board all but closed the book on the issue.

Robin Haley’s name went unspoken during a public comment period at Monday’s School Board meeting, but the 20-year coaching veteran was at the center of a discussion involving bullying allegations and concerns about the process for student and parent evaluations of high school coaches.

John Winslow, whose daughter played field hockey under Haley and graduated this month, is one of 10 parents who signed a May 16 letter to School Board Chairman Andrew Kinley claiming Haley belittled students, treated them without respect, failed to offer constructive criticism, and called them names including “stupid,” “cow” and “four-eyes.”

Those claims were also made by eight FHS athletes in a Feb. 10 meeting that was also attended by Principal Gregg Palmer, Superintendent Barbara Powers and several parents. Without the knowledge of school administrators, one parent apparently recorded the meeting; a transcript was provided to Kinley.

Additionally, although the School Department website says “athletes/teams are required and parents are encouraged to complete a brief post-season questionnaire,” parents have raised concerns that comments made in post-season evaluations of Haley and her athletic programs have been ignored by administrators.

The School Board on Monday approved dozens of teaching and coaching assignments for next school year. Before the board voted unanimously to approve its fall 2014 high school coaching assignments, including Haley as varsity field hockey coach, Kinley addressed the situation in a prepared statement.

“Recently a complaint was lodged against our administrators for their handling of a complaint against an employee,” Kinley said. “The administration spent over 50 hours investigating concerns raised by the formal complaint and presented a 12-page internal report to the board for its review. The School Board has thus determined that on the original complaint there shall be no further action by the School Board. This, however, should not be interpreted to imply that actions on the valid concerns have not been taken. … This board does recognize that there was a procedural mistake involving the review and response to student evaluations of coaches and that the procedure is now corrected.”

Kinley invited high school parents to join Palmer in the fall for a confidential meeting where the principal “has been given authority to directly answer any remaining questions” regarding the investigation.

“The School Board has determined that from our perspective this issue is closed following due diligence,” Kinley said.

After the board addressed the ordeal, members of the public had their say.

“Why have a bullying policy if the school administration and School Board are not willing to enforce it?” Winslow asked. “How can the administration conduct an investigation of themselves and conclude an equitable conclusion without bias, and dismiss facts and documentation presented to them?”

After Winslow spoke, a string of 10 consecutive people took to the podium to defend Haley. And while Kinley prefaced the public comment by stating that people could talk in “generalities,” but not refer to “any specific individual employed by the district,” the speakers did little to veil their comments.

“I can personally say that this coach is extremely well respected in the state of Maine,” said Kristina Lane Prescott, a former coach at Greely High School.

“This specific program has too much integrity to be (called) into question,” said Nicole Foley, a 2010 graduate who played for Haley.

Winslow, who maintains that Haley was “psychologically abusive” to his daughter and some of her teammates, sounded dejected after the meeting.

“I don’t know what it takes to improve coaching in the Falmouth school system,” he said. “One School Board member essentially told me, ‘Well, 50 percent of the girls like her.’ So 50 percent is an OK rate?”

While Haley retains her job as Falmouth’s varsity field hockey coach, she was replaced this spring as varsity girls’ lacrosse coach, a position she held for 11 years.

Haley, who attended the board meeting but did not speak, on Tuesday referred questions to her attorney, Gregg Frame.

“I think Robin feels obviously elated and exonerated after last night’s School Board meeting,” Frame said. “The outpouring of support was incredible.”

He added, “I think the investigation showed that Robin never once used derogatory terms toward anyone.”

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter:@brendantwist.