FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Alex Renteria, Manager of Media Relations, Alexandra_Renteria@dpsk12.org
Aug. 25, 2017
DPS Terminates East Cheer Coach, Hires Outside Firm to Investigate
Superintendent: “We were wrong not to have taken action in June.”
Denver – Denver Public Schools (DPS) Superintendent Tom Boasberg announced tonight that the district has terminated East High School cheer coach Ozell Williams as the result of an investigation surrounding the use of “forced splits” during cheer practice in June.
Boasberg also announced that the district has hired an outside law firm – Davis, Graham & Stubbs – to perform an investigation of exactly who knew what, when, both at the school and district level, with regard to the practice of forced splits on the cheer team, the safety of the students and the concerns of the parents.
Boasberg laid out a timeline of events that has surfaced since the district began cooperating with Denver Police in the investigation. He said that on Thursday, June 15, the mother of one of the young women on the cheer team sent a letter to staff at East that raised her deep concerns about the use of forced splits. This communication included at least one of the videos that have since been made public by media. Immediately afterward, the next morning, the East principal, athletic director and an assistant principal met with the young woman, the parents and the cheer coaches to discuss the concerns raised. At that meeting, the school leadership team believed they had addressed and resolved the parents’ and student’s concerns. It is now clear they had not.
“It is also clear that the decision made at that time not to terminate the employment of Mr. Williams was wrong. What is shown in the videos is extraordinarily distressing. At that time, the decision should have been made to terminate the employment of the coach and, I believe, to report what was observed on the video to police,” Boasberg said.
The superintendent said the technique is dangerous and unacceptable, and that what happened was wrong. “Under no circumstances should a young person be in a situation where they are suffering physical or emotional harm. Under no circumstances should a young person be forced to continue any activity beyond the point they have expressed the desire to stop,” Boasberg said. “I appreciate that our athletes push themselves hard to fulfill their full potential and our coaches play a critical role in this. But that is not what this is about. This was way beyond that line.”
He went on to say the district was wrong not to have taken action in June, when school leaders were first made aware of concerns about the practice. Boasberg said it wasn’t until this week, on Tuesday afternoon, that district staff received a public records request asking for information about the cheer coach, including any letters from cheer parents and any videos. “Up until that time, neither I nor any of my senior team was aware of the existence of the videos or the practice of forced splits. We received the videos late Tuesday night and on Wednesday morning, immediately began our investigation,” he said.
Denver Police informed DPS on Wednesday morning that they were initiating an investigation, based on a complaint made to Denver Human Services about forced splits at the cheer team practice. Boasberg said the district’s standard practice is to collaborate closely with Denver Police when they launch a criminal investigation and allow police to take the lead because of the possibility of criminal prosecution. “Our collaborative practice has been that they interview individuals related to the case and while they are doing their investigation we do not release information or perform our own interviews.”
As the investigation began Wednesday, DPS placed five individuals on leave, “to protect the well-being of students on the cheer team and to conduct a fair and thorough investigation of what had transpired,” Boasberg said.
Boasberg said today’s actions were prompted by the evidence gathered in collaboration with the police over the past two days.
To read the full statement from this evening and previous statements issued by the superintendent and Board of Education, visit dpsk12.org.
NOTE: The district requests that media respect the privacy of the minors captured in the videos who have not given their consent to have their faces shown or identities revealed.