Coaches Worried They Will Be ‘Held Responsible’ for Athletes’ Wrongdoing

Coaches Worried They Will Be ‘Held Responsible’ for Athletes’ Wrongdoing

New supervision guidelines not realistic, some say

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MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith speaks at a press conference on Monday in Rockville.

File photo

Some coaches say new requirements to create more thorough and robust supervision plans in the wake of sexual assaults at Damascus High School, where a football locker room was left unsupervised, are unrealistic.

Some coaches found the new supervision plan guidelines helpful, according to a report by WilmerHale, the external consulting firm hired to review MCPS policies following the rapes. But many said the plans aren’t feasible “because of resource constraints, staffing limitations or the physical layout of their schools,” the report says.

“That created anxiety among the administrators and staff with whom we spoke; many worried that, if something went wrong, they would be blamed for not following the plan,” a WilmerHale report released Monday said.

In February, MCPS issued updated guidelines about athlete supervision in response to the alleged rapes on the same day The Washington Post published a report detailing that the Damascus High School administration did not report the hazings for more than 12 hours.

Under the new policy, before the start of each new athletics season, head coaches must fill out a template that outlines who is responsible for pre- and post-practice and game supervision, which locker room is used and contingency plans.

The new guidelines say coaches receive an hour of locker-room supervision per day in their stipends and principals are expected to implement supervision plans. Coaches are also required to show athletes a PowerPoint presentation that includes information about the harmful effects of bullying, hazing and harassment.

WilmerHale reviewed supervision plans created at Damascus High School and “several other MCPS schools,” according to its report, and found they “varied greatly in their specificity and comprehensiveness, even within a single school.”

The report says athletic directors and coaches said no one gave them guidance on what a supervision plan should include, especially in common situations. For example, the report says, coaches are unsure what they are expected to do if a single athlete has to use the restroom and only one coach is at practice.

“They worry that MCPS expects them to have their eyes on all students at all times — and that, if they cannot achieve this level of surveillance and there is an incident, they will be held responsible,” according to the report.

WilmerHale recommended that MCPS clearly communicate to coaches and athletic directors that uninterrupted supervision of high school students is “neither possible nor desirable” and that it is not “legally required” for coaches to “have eyes on every student at all times.”

Further, the firm directed MCPS to provide sample supervision plans and encourage the school’s staff to collaborate with resource officers and the central office staff to create their team’s plan.

Finally, WilmerHale said MCPS must ensure basic maintenance repairs are made to ensure the supervision plans can be executed, like fixing broken locks and doors or providing temporary bathrooms near practice fields.

This week, MCPS said in a news release it plans to streamline its process for creating supervision plans to include top administrators and “ensure a more comprehensive, collaborative and intentional approach to supervision and safety.”

MCPS will also establish a partnership with the National Center for Sports Spectator Safety and Security and propose “budgetary initiatives to expand” security for high school extracurricular activities.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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