Note Jan. 9, 2014: Michelle Caldier contacted me after this post was published and told me that she did not authorize for her Facebook profile to be added to the group Parents Against South Kitsap Football.
A complaint of bullying by the parent of one student on this year’s South Kitsap High School football team was not connected to head coach Eric Canton’s recent resignation, Superintendent Michelle Reid said Thursday.
Reid early in December authorized a third party investigation into the complaints of Jennifer Wilkinson on behalf of her son, a senior on the Wolves’ varsity squad. Wilkinson alleges that Canton and other staff intimidated her son in retaliation for criticism he and later she lodged with the coach and high school athletic director over concerns they had about safety issues and whether player time was handled fairly.
Wilkinson also alleges that her son’s privacy rights were violated in online discussions of his academic eligibility to play for the Wolves.
Canton resigned on Dec. 26 after meeting earlier in the month with the high school principal and later athletic director Ed Santos. Those encounters were followed by a Dec. 23 meeting with the district’s director of human resources, an assistant superintendent and a couple of union reps.
As Canton told Kitsap Sun sports columnist Chuck Stark, he felt he had no choice but to resign.
“I wasn’t going to fight it,” Canton said.
Reid said Wilkinson’s complaint trickled up to her some weeks after Wilkinson filed a harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) complaint on Oct. 14. Most such complaints are handled within the school and never actually result in a formal HIB report, Reid said.
Two formal HIB reports were filed within the district in the last two years, both at the high school. One was Wilkinson’s complaint about Canton; the other, filed last school year, was unrelated to Canton. Last year’s report did not result in a third party investigation.
South Kitsap High School officials conducted an investigation of Wilkinson’s complaint, but she wasn’t satisfied, and she appealed to the next level, the superintendent.
At that point, Reid said, she decided to engage a third party
“It’s an objective look at the facts so we can tone down the emotional intensity and tone down the rhetoric a little so we can just looks at the facts,” she said.
Were there complaints from other parents or the community about Canton?
“Complaints have not come to me personally about Coach Canton,” Reid said.
The investigation, which is still under way, is being conducted by Rick Kaiser, an attorney specializing in workplace investigations, with experience in handling issues related to risk management in schools.
Reid said she believes having an outside party review the facts and allegations is in the best interests of all concerned.
“Obviously we take those reports seriously,” Reid said. “We need to have a full and thoughtful look at all the events that took place. I have confidence that our staff at all times has the best intent for our young people.”
Reid said the investigator was in the district this week, although he has not yet interviewed her.
Unlike teachers, coaches serve on a year-to-year contract under authorization of the athletic director. Any “separation” must occur within 30 days of the end of season, Reid said. That explains the timing of Canton’s departure as coach.
He will, however, continue as a dean at the high school.
I asked Reid what protections the district affords to coaches, given the emotionally charged arena of high school sports.
“I will do everything I can to protect coaches. I think coaching is a difficult job in today’s world, and it’s an important job as well,” Reid said. “Part of the reason I have a third party investigator investigating the situation is to protect our coaches. My assumption going in is that our coaches have done the right thing.
“I think the best protection for our coaches is the truth. I believe the investigation is going to surface facts that will support the truth.”
Reid did not know when the investigation would be complete.
As for Canton himself, she added, “I think he’s a fine young man. I really appreciate Canton’s dedication and passion for South Kitsap School District and the athletic program here at South Kitsap High School. I admire his dedication and passion.”
Reid said she couldn’t comment on whether the Wolves’ less than stellar record during Canton’s tenure bore on his resignation, because “I’m not at liberty to discuss a personnel matter at this point.”
South was 6-4 Canton’s first season with the Wolves advancing to a Class 4A state preliminary round. South was 4-6 and 3-7 the past two seasons.
“I take full responsibility for not winning enough games,”
Canton told Stark.
He added however, that “helping athletes become productive members of society” is a higher priority for him than winning games in high school.
(Downey) is related to incoming 26th District State Rep. Michelle
Downey Caldier, who is listed as a member of Wilkinson’s Facebook
group Parents Against South Kitsap Football Program. The group had
eight members on Thursday.