Several days ago, a story broke in Clay County about a basketball coach under fire. The coach, Scott Gibson, was accused of ignoring earlier hazing incidents, allowing the situation to deteriorate to the point where one student ended up hospitalized “with staples in his head, a concussion, a bruised tailbone and facial lacerations.” I attended Clay County High School some time ago, and know a number of people who work within the school system in the county, so the story caught my eye.
The story has continued to spiral, however, as Clay County Superintendent Kenneth Tanner stepped in to defend the coach.
“This wasn’t the coach’s fault. When he suspected some horseplay was going on, he inquired about it and spoke with the kids as a group and individually. He looked into the details and dealt with it and felt there was nothing to report,” [Tanner] said. “He made admirable efforts to find out if anything was going on, and he was assured there was nothing. We have spent a great amount of time on this, and we’re trying to put it past us now.”
This statement highlights much of what I consider to be wrong with public school systems in general. Superintendent Tanner seems to believe that Gibson did no wrong in this situation. I see three possible situations, none of which leaves Gibson completely innocent. From best to worst:
The first situation is that Gibson was aware of the hazing incidents, but felt that his discussions with students were sufficient intervention. The Gazette article quickly shows the issue with this scenario.
State code requires that school personnel report any incidents to administration immediately. Any willful neglect of those duties allows the school board to dismiss “any person in its employment at any time.”
If state code requires school personnel to report all incidents to administration, it seems that would indicate that Coach Gibson was not given the prerogative to decide for himself whether to report the incident(s). Assuming he was aware of the prior incident where he allegedly walked into the locker room, turned on the light, and walked out while hazing was occurring, he should have reported it.
That said, if Gibson felt he had reason to believe there were hazing/bullying incidents going on but that he had dealt with those incidents sufficiently, he may be derelict in his legal duties or in his judgment, but he at least tried to do the right thing. And that is the best scenario.
The second scenario is that Gibson was simply unaware of these incidents. From the descriptions of the alleged interfaces, this was not a one-time, relatively minor incident. The hazing this young man faced (and, presumably, other students have likely faced, as “hazing” seems to imply an ongoing issue) is alleged to have been fairly serious – serious enough that another student felt the need to beat him pretty brutally when it was discovered he had reported it. In this scenario, Coach Gibson, a man who has been hired by the state to teach teenagers and coach them, is apparently incompetent, having been completely unaware of the misbehavior of his charges.
I never played any sort of organized sports in school, but I am not unaware of the alleged benefits that team sports have. Playing on team sports should provide some degree of an ego-check on students, and it (in theory) gives young people another interested adult who can help to shape them into “team players”, both literally and figuratively. If Coach Gibson is so out of touch with his players that he is oblivious to hazing going on within his team, I question his fitness to continue as a coach for impressionable young men.
The third scenario is that the coach was aware of the situation, and did not see the need to intervene. I call this the Joe Paterno scenario. In this scenario, either Gibson completely underestimated the seriousness of the hazing (despite a great deal of publicity of similar incidents in recent years) or even felt that it was a rite of passage. Regardless of the situation, if he was aware and disregarded the issue, he condoned the activities, either explicitly or implicitly.
So, we have three scenarios. Either the coach tried to handle the situation and failed, was completely oblivious to the unfolding situation and its seriousness, or was complicit in the situation. In none of these situations did the coach himself or the school system as a whole meet the goal of protecting this student.
Despite this, Superintendent Tanner feels that it’s best if we “put it past us now.” This man is the head of the school board, a board which is tasked with running the Clay County school system. Ostensibly, that puts a great deal of responsibility for the safety of Clay County’s students on Tanner’s shoulders, and his willingness to blow off a serious situation and deny that the coach in question was at best derelict in his duties is disturbing to say the least.