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Update, Report on East Cheer Investigation

Above, click to watch DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s live press conference, including brief remarks from John Youngquist, the former East High School Principal who is returning Oct. 2 to lead the school.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg made the following statement Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, regarding the East High School investigation:

“Good afternoon, and thank you all for being here today. On Aug. 25, I announced that we were employing an outside law firm – Davis, Graham & Stubbs – to perform an independent investigation of exactly who knew what when, both at the school and district level, with regards to the practice of forced splits on the East cheer team, the safety of the students and the concerns of the parents. Today, as promised, we are releasing that report in full to you.

View the final report of the independent investigation, and accompanying emails

First, I want to express my gratitude to our East community. In spite of the challenging circumstances in recent weeks, East has continued to thrive and that is a testament to the strength of our community of students, educators and families at East.

In addition, I want to say how much I appreciate our partnership with Denver Police and the Denver District Attorney’s Office as they continue their efforts.

Late yesterday, we received the final report from Davis, Graham & Stubbs. The report is based on interviews with 30 people, including members of the East cheer team and their families. For this reason, to protect sensitive information involving our students, you will see some minor redactions in the released emails accompanying the report.

The report makes clear in painful detail that over multiple months, and in multiple instances involving concerns of a serious nature, East High School Principal Andy Mendelsberg and Athletic Director Lisa Porter did not take the sufficient steps to ensure that the physical and emotional safety and well-being of the students on the East High School cheer team were fully protected.

Specifically, the report shows that they:

1 – Did not sufficiently address, share or report allegations of abuse and the contents of the videos.

2 – Did not satisfactorily determine, in other instances involving concerns raised about physical or emotional harms, whether the young women of the cheer team did indeed suffer those harms or were at risk of them.

3 – Did not provide the necessary level of oversight or supervision of the cheer coach, especially as the concerns mounted.

4 – Did not implement the necessary level of corrective action, including termination, of the cheer coach.

The concerns raised by parents were not limited to the forced splits exercises at cheer practice. They included concerns that Coach Williams bullied and humiliated cheer team members during practice and forced injured girls to practice, as well as that he attempted to dictate the girls’ behavior outside of practice, including warning them not to talk to anyone about what occurred during practices and requiring them to friend him on social media in violation of district policy. Additional concerns included questions about the coach’s integrity and conflicts of interest in his roles inside and outside the school.

The report does also detail extensive efforts by Mr. Mendelsberg and Ms. Porter to talk to and meet with parents who shared concerns about Coach Williams, as well as several meetings with Coach Williams to address those concerns. Such discussions, however, did not satisfactorily address the health and safety concerns involved here.

Mr. Mendelsberg has decided to retire as principal of East High School and he will be reaching out to the East community (read his letter here). In addition, Ms. Porter resigned earlier this week as athletic director at East High School.

These are extremely difficult matters. For many years, Andy Mendelsberg and Lisa Porter have served as teacher, coach, assistant principal or principal for the Denver Public Schools. They have been colleagues, mentors, leaders and friends for thousands of our teachers, our families and our kids. We deeply appreciate and thank them for their service.

As you may recall, on Aug. 23, the day I learned about the East cheer videos, we placed Mr. Mendelsberg, Ms. Porter, Coach Williams, Assistant Cheer Coach Mariah Cladis and Deputy General Counsel Michael Hickman on leave to ensure a thorough and fair investigation of what had occurred. Coach Williams was removed from his position of employment with DPS two days later.

The report’s findings indicate that neither the emails that raised the concerns about Coach Williams nor the videos were shared with Mr. Hickman or any other district-based employee. Based on the findings of the report, we have taken corrective action with Mr. Hickman for a failure to follow up sufficiently, even in spite of the limited information he was provided by Mr. Mendelsberg. Mr. Hickman will be reinstated effective today.

The report also makes clear that Assistant Cheer Coach Cladis was not present at cheer practice when the forced splits recorded in the videos took place and was a volunteer coach, but was not yet a DPS employee at that time. She is free to seek continued employment in DPS with East’s new cheer coach.

Moving forward, our focus is on learning from the mistakes made in this situation. We must ensure we always protect the health and safety of our students. And, we must strive to ensure every single one of our students understands that neither they nor their classmates should ever be placed in a situation where they are suffering physical or emotional harm.

In support of this, I want to briefly outline three key steps we are committed to taking as we move forward:

1 – We will ensure timely and effective mandatory reporter training for all employees emphasizing their responsibility to report and, if necessary, escalate concerns about student safety.

2 – We will work with students, parents, and coaches to emphasize an athletic culture that prioritizes above all the development of our young people and their leadership skills, personal safety and growth.

3 – We are developing training for our school leadership teams that includes this event as an example and seeks to ensure our leaders have all the tools, knowledge and supports to deal with challenging situations in the future.

Finally, I want to end by again thanking our East kids, families, staff and community. I want to particularly thank Jason Maclin, the assistant principal who stepped forward to lead in a very tough situation; the East counselors who have been providing additional supports to our East cheer students and families; and the girls themselves for their strength and resiliency.

I know that East has a special place in the hearts of many in our Denver community. With this in mind, I am pleased to announce that one of East’s most respected and dedicated leaders, John Youngquist, has agreed to return to East as principal.

John is a former DPS teacher, coach, elementary school principal and high school principal. He successfully led East from 2007-2011 and later led our district principal development efforts. He then moved to Aurora Public Schools, where he has been serving as chief academic officer. However, I think at least a part of John’s heart has remained with DPS and with East. I am pleased to welcome John back to DPS and would like to invite John to the podium to make a few remarks.

Remarks from John Youngquist, who will return Oct. 2 as East High School Principal:

“Thank you Superintendent Boasberg and thank you to the Denver Public Schools for providing me with this opportunity to lead at East High School as principal again. My passion for being the principal of East High School is born from my deep personal and professional relationship with the school. My heart has drawn me toward supporting this learning community now and well into the future.

The mission of East High School represents our commitment to every young person, our understanding that the diversity of our community gives us great strength, and the vision we hold for the academic and life success of every student.

As a leader and as a principal, I know that our ability to accomplish this mission begins with trust. I am the dad of two DPS students. I trust that when I send them to school every morning, they are safe, they are learning well and they are happy. I value the trust that every parent places into our hands every day. And, I am committed to strengthening that bond in partnership with our young people, our parents and with our great East staff.

I look forward to rejoining our East community as principal and ensuring that, together, we secure a successful future for every East Angel.”

For additional information about the East cheer investigation, including previous statements by Supt. Boasberg, please click here.