Archive for Saturday, October 28, 2006

School board fires pom squad coach

Decision stems from incident involving student alcohol use

October 28, 2006


Four mothers testified for her. A tearful former Lawrence High School pom squad member rallied behind her.

And fathers of pom squad members lingered outside all afternoon.

But after an emotional four-hour, closed-door hearing, Lawrence's school board unanimously decided Friday to fire Ashley Stewart, LHS's pom squad coach, for her actions involving a student drinking incident last month.

The board approved a resolution to do so on a voice vote, ending Stewart's six years as coach.

"We feel like this is a difficult and unfortunate situation all the way around," said Sue Morgan, board president.

Morgan read a two-page resolution that listed two main reasons for the firing:

¢ Stewart allowed a student who had admitted to consuming alcohol to cheer at the Sept. 29 homecoming football game.

¢ Stewart failed to tell her supervisor immediately that the student had been drinking, which meant that appropriate procedures couldn't be implemented, including contacting the student's parents so the parents could be allowed to safely transport their child home.

Because the matter was a personnel issue, board members said they were unable to comment on the termination.

Stewart referred questions to her attorney, Paul Davis, who said "termination was not the way to deal with it."

"Coaches and teachers have to make difficult decisions, and they get put in tough situations at times," Davis said. "And there's not always a black and white answer. This was really one of those situations. And we didn't think that the termination was really the proper remedy for what had occurred."

Lawrence High School pom squad coach Ashley Stewart, right, listens to her attorney, Paul Davis, before an executive session hearing with the Lawrence school board Friday afternoon.

Lawrence High School pom squad coach Ashley Stewart, right, listens to her attorney, Paul Davis, before an executive session hearing with the Lawrence school board Friday afternoon.

Davis said the school board decided to take a strong stand about student alcohol abuse.

"That's something that we understand and support wholeheartedly," Davis said. "Ashley Stewart was an excellent coach. That was what her supervisor said. And there were numerous parents and members of that squad who felt that she was treated unjustly. We just don't think the action taken today was really a just outcome."

However, Davis said there would be no attempt to appeal the board's decision.

"The board is the Supreme Court when it comes to this," he said. "There is nowhere else to go."

Stewart, a Johnson County elementary school teacher, has been on suspension with pay for her Lawrence supplemental coaching contract since Oct. 9.

That's when the school board approved a resolution saying it intended to terminate Stewart's coaching contract because of the drinking incident.

Stewart gave her side of the story earlier this month. Stewart said she asked the student at the game whether the girl had been drinking because she could smell alcohol on her breath.

Because the girl appeared to be OK, she allowed the girl to cheer at the game, then made sure the girl had a ride home from the game, Stewart said.

Stewart said she informed the girl's parents and her supervisor the next day.

Stewart said she was told she was fired Oct. 2 because she didn't tell her supervisor on the night of the incident.

During Friday's hearing, the board's attorneys brought Steve Nilhas, LHS principal, and Gwen Wedd, LHS cheerleading coach, in to speak.

Several people spoke on Stewart's behalf, some emerging after their testimony in tears.

Those speaking on her behalf included Cindy Fritzel, whose daughter, Kylie, is on the pom squad; Adriane Gill, who had a daughter on the squad two years ago; Abbey Murray, a former LHS pom squad member who is now a member of the Kansas University Rock Chalk Dancers, Abbey Murray's mother, Sandy Murray; and Jane Mosely, whose daughter, Emily, is on the pom squad.

Tim Fritzel and Paul Mosely also came to the hearing in support of Stewart.


Diana Lee 11 years, 6 months ago

I do feel somewhat bad for the pom squad coach, but she put the school district in a very difficult position. I personally don't know if I agree that she needed to be fired over this, but she certainly needed to face some consequence. She showed dangerously bad judgment in allowing a student who had been drinking (no matter the amount) to participate in a school-sponsored activity and in not following established procedures. Thank goodness she at least made sure the girl had a safe ride home.

Patty Buchholz 11 years, 6 months ago

It is an unfortunate incident but I applaud the school board for sticking with their decision. There are reasons procedures are implemented and we are way to easy on underage drinkers these days. Adult sponsors, parents, administrators, teachers and others have a responsibility to teenagers & their welfare.

Confrontation 11 years, 6 months ago

Like, oh my Gaaah!!! She, like, totally deserves this. Her D-D-D-Defense! must have been pretty bad.

Shardwurm 11 years, 6 months ago

"Ah 8%. I'm going to spend the day sipping Cristal, and jet-setting to Brasil with my newly-found riches. Perhaps I have enough money to reanimate Vincent Pryce himself, and make him read some scary poetry to entertain me on this, the celebration of Halloween."

Ha! Tell you what most of us think: You're already over-paid. You have to remember that we who have children in school aren't fooled by your bravado. We know what goes on in the classrooms and how much teaching is really being done. You should probably keep your mouth shut since I view most teachers as bandits - a mask and a gun asking me for my wallet. Over-glorified babysitters.

Shardwurm 11 years, 6 months ago

P.S. I've NEVER gotten an 8 percent pay raise, much less several raises above everyone else around me. What you say? That's because I have a better-paying job? Why Yes! I reply - I made good career decisions.

KS 11 years, 6 months ago

We have people walking the streets for manslaughter and worse. The penalty doesn't fit the crime. There has to be more to the story.

Hilary Morton 11 years, 6 months ago

Shardwurm...I don't think she would've gotten a raise. I don't know if she was a teacher. If she was just a sponsor, and not a teacher, she would not get the raise.

Ah 8%. I'm going to spend the day sipping Cristal, and jet-setting to Brasil with my newly-found riches. Perhaps I have enough money to reanimate Vincent Pryce himself, and make him read some scary poetry to entertain me on this, the celebration of Halloween.

zzgoeb 11 years, 6 months ago

This was the ONLY decision for the board. Imagine if the student had been injured or killed from this incident when driving home? Would the sports mommies and daddies have been so supportive of the coach? Nope...lawsuits!!!

Kids must learn early that there are consequences for their actions. For an adult to "look the other way" is only going to be compounded later. Since when will teenagers quickly fess up to doing something like this?

And as others have written here...was the kid tossed from the squad? Let's hope so...

compmd 11 years, 6 months ago

a friendly reminder: having a drink != "under the influence of alcohol" OR "drunk"

as far as underage drinking goes, I'm against it, even when I was that age. I saw too many people ruin their lives. however, I was brought up in a mediterranean family, and a nice red wine was often given to kids at a nice dinner. by the time I was 16 I could pick out a nice wine for any evet. was I a drunk? no. did I get drunk? no. was it against the law? ha! I'm not making it that easy for you. the answer to that is left as an exercises for you, my fellow readers.

I second the call of hypocrisy here too. especially from those who claim the girl was drunk/under the influence. I wonder how many of those people ever had a beer and then got in their cars.

carolannfugate 11 years, 6 months ago

She should have hired the attorney the assistant principal had.

xenophonschild 11 years, 6 months ago

What a bunch of tight-assed lollipops. Don't have a clue. Maybe Jesus can find one for them.

That's sarcasm, by the way. Jesus is dead.

fed_up 11 years, 6 months ago

As a parent, if my kid was drinking at or before a game, I would WANT someone to contact me right away so that I could take my child home. The coach may as well have said to the girl..."it's okay to drink." That wasn't her place, it's the parent's place. I am sad to hear Lawrence lost another good coach/teacher, but on issues that important, I think the board made a good decision. I won't want my kids drunk and running about when they get to that age.

Guilt does wonders in the raising of a child, hopefully the girl learned a lesson whether she did or didn't get kicked off of the team. There are consequences to drinking, and this time, she didn't have to pay them, her coach did. Next might be her with a broken neck from drinking and performing.

letsgetwise 11 years, 6 months ago

Hilary...if your comment on the 8% pay raise implies that it isn't's more than the national CPI, and more than the office I work at received. I think the base salary could be more for teachers in Lawrence, but an 8% increase is not that far off.

letsgetwise 11 years, 6 months ago

Someone else mentioned the assistant principal...I never heard any more about her and believe she is back at the high school this year. I expected her to have some sort of retributions. All that said...I do think the coach had an obligation to follow the rules that are put forth at the beginning of every school year. Unfortunately, SHE made the decision she did, and therefore SHE caused her own dismissal. The STUDENT on the other hand, made HER own decision, and according to my student, she did get kicked off the pom squad, which in my opinion she should have. She would have been given the rules beforehand as well. I also understand that one of the students that got caught at FreeState with the banner incident, also got kicked off the cheer squad. The whole thing is sad.

Godot 11 years, 6 months ago

I was at that game. The pom squad was not in control. There was a real attitude problem, and there were some very questionable acrobatic stunts performed by the pom squad.

Something was not right. I would not have wanted my daughter involved with it.

BrianR 11 years, 6 months ago

Americans are pretty pathetic. You're getting more worked up about this non-event than you do about things that really matter. Explains a lot.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 11 years, 6 months ago

"she trusted her personal observations of the girl's behavior "

Um... so this coach has a built-in breathalyzer? She can "tell" who is and isn't intoxicated?

candylandxwhat 11 years, 6 months ago

If you take a serious look at the stands at a high school football game, all that cheering isn't school spirit. On any given game night, I'd say at least 1 to 2/3s of the student body is under SOME influence. People know. They just don't have the b*lls to say anything about it because of the consequences.

Ms Stewart did what she did probably because she 1) didn't want to make a scene 2)didn't want to embarass the girl in front of hundreds of people and 3) she had a personal coach-student relationship with the girl, admiting she messed up was probably hard enough for her.

I think its sad that they found the only neccissary actions were to remove Ms Stewart. I think Ms Stewart should have been awarded or commended for telling the truth at all.

One more shining moment for the Lawrence Public School System...

redneckwoman 11 years, 6 months ago

A similar thing happened about 10 years ago at another school near by. Two student's showed up to a school activity after drinking a teacher caught them, instead of calling their parents they where sent on their way. About an hour later they were in a bad accident leaving one dead and the other badly hurt. It was fortunate that it was a one car accident.

I'd like to know what happened to the girl also?

Aileen Dingus 11 years, 6 months ago

Jedifunk- destroy all of our freedoms in high school??

Let me see if I understand your logic- you believe that it is part of your personal freedom to break the law and not face consequences, and when someone DOES require the consequences be faced, THAT is a bad thing?

I hope you're insured kid. Your learning curve is going to have a pointy and abrupt drop off one of these days.

As to the dismissal- possibly over the top, but I don't know the whole story. However, I agree that the student ought not to have participated, embarassment be hanged.

If 2/3 of the students in the stands at any given football game are intoxicated, well, that points to a larger problem doesn't it? Underage drinking is illegal here. European upbringing doesn't enter in to it- we aren't IN Europe. Sure, many kids do it, but that doesn't make it ok.

CindiCat 11 years, 6 months ago

"terrapin2"::..Put down your glass and read the article again for goodness sakes!!! Underage drinking is ILLEGAL. A high school girl shows up at a game and has been drinking:::ILLEGALLY. That young girl messed up big time and you are coming across in your comments that it is no big deal. Are you friggin serious???

If you teach your children that if they decided to drink ILLEGALLY, do it responsibly, that is fine and dandy.

I on the other hand do not agree with that. But, ya know what, that is MY opinion.

A "great coach" would not have let this situation go as far as it did.

I believe that kids should be taught to not drink til they reach the legal age of 21 but, I know darn good and well that that will happen when pigs fly.

Kids do whatever they want whenever they want no matter who tells them what they are doing or about to do, is wrong. You know, it's all fun and games til someone gets hurt. Fortunately, there were no injuries in this sad situation:::.just a coach getting fired and a young girl who should be hanging her head in shame for her totally idiotic actions.

formerksteacher 11 years, 6 months ago

Shardwurm, Babysitters get paid $5 an hour, or at least they did 20 years ago when I was sitting. I teach every day - 20 kids at a time, 7 hours contact time per day. So what's that - mmm...$700 per day? Let's see...I teach 175 days per year, so that's...$122,500. And when I teach, I don't have the option of saying I don't want to take the job that day, unlike babysitters. So...if you want to call me a babysitter, go ahead. Just pay me what I'm owed for the job I do. Otherwise, think of a more intelligent answer next time. And remember...had a teacher not taught you how to read and write, you wouldn't BE reading that article, nor would you be writing in response to it.

terrapin2 11 years, 6 months ago

How sad. The tea-totalers have fired what appears to be a great coach, and for what? A high-school girl had a beer before a high school foot ball game, but was not noticably intoxicated? From what I've read, I believe the coach took the appropriate actions; she trusted her personal observations of the girl's behavior and allowed her to continue cheering, then made sure she had a ride home and notified her supervisor the next day. If she were my child that would be good enough for me, but I would actually prefer if the coach came directly to me and didn't tell her supervisor. I think that would be a better way to handle it so a huge mess like this doesn't have to happen. Here's a novel idea. How about some common sense in this situation? Life is not black & white, it's gray all over! I believe we should be teaching our kids that they have two options regarding alcohol: don't drink, or drink responsibly, in moderation, with your parent's consent, (much like the Europeans do). I grew up in Topeka in a German-American family where my parents taught me at an early age about the responsibility that comes with drinking beer and wine. And I still enjoy a good craft beer or a nice bottle of wine, but I'm certainly not an alcaholic. Bottom line. In this day and age we need every good teacher or coach we can get. And yet they're willing to let one go because of this particular issue? In my mind that is the crime in this story.

towne27 11 years, 6 months ago

The incident supposedly occured earlier that day at the homecoming parade which was at 2:00. If this girl was drunk where was the administration? Ms. Stewart works in another discrict so she would not have been there. And what about the homeless man that jumped up on one of the homecoming floats with the students? Is this not a danger as well? Once again where was the administration? Maybe at the Red Lyon getting a buzz of their own! This whole incident is just another example of how the Lawrence School District can't seem to keep any good teachers around for more than a few years. Are we all really that naive to think that drinking does not go on all the time among high school stundents? Sure it's illegal but so is going over the speed limit. Maybe we should fire every teacher that speeds in this town. Ms. Stewart got screwed, she was put in a tough situation and made the best decision she could at the time. Let's not forget who did the drinking here.

Stephen Prue 11 years, 6 months ago

the issue here is if the teacher in question should be held accountable for her actions. it was the school board's decision to make and they made it, case closed.

jedifunk 11 years, 6 months ago

Another ridiculous decision from our ridiculous school board. I'm so glad I'm graduating soon, before they completely destroy all of our freedoms in high school.

missmagoo 11 years, 6 months ago I dare ask what happened to the student?

CindiCat 11 years, 6 months ago

I commented on this situation the first time it was reported::at least this "issue" is finally resolved. I am sure that the outcome was not what the Pom Coach expected but, I am glad that she was given a punishment for the way she handled this unfortunate situation.

She admitted that she asked the young girl if she had been drinking, but, she still let her perform while this young girl was under the influence.

The Coach should have made that young girl sit out and contacted her parents.

I don't care who this young girl is, I don't care if she was THE BEST on the Pom Squad, I don't care if this young girl was THE MOST popular, I don't care if the Pom Squad looked "un-even". Too bad.

This young girl messed up big time. Was this young girl reprimanded for her totally stupid actions? Is she still on the Pom Squad?

The Pom Coach paid THE ultimate price for this young girls actions.

While I agree with the School Board stepping up to the plate and addressing this, again, what about the young girl who caused all this mess?

towne27 11 years, 6 months ago

I think almost everyone is a hipocrite here. I would guess almost everyone probably drank at some point in time when they were underage. I love how we adults think its ok when we did it, but now we are on a search and destroy mission with every kid that drinks.

Shardwurm 11 years, 6 months ago

Let's give them all another 8 percent pay raise to let them know how much we relish their contributions!

jeffds01 11 years, 6 months ago

Bad football team, Drunk pom squad, online editors calling your school out in their blogs....having something good about you in the paper....priceless

lionsfan 11 years ago

You people are absolutely rediculous. How dare you sit here and talk badly about a squad, a girl, a coach, and a situation all of which you know absolutely nothing about? Hey "Godot", what is this "out of control" activity that you are talking about? You're obviously retarded considering the pom squad doesn't do acrobatic stunts. Those are called cheerleaders, genius. They are called mistakes. People make them. I can guarentee the girl involved is more mature than you adults sitting here anonymously giving your 2 cents on the situation. She paid her dues. Get a life and keep turning your head and pretending you don't know everytime your child comes come drunk. All of your comments are crap and absolutely false. You should be ashamed of yourself.

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