Former CHS Baseball Player Files Suit Against District, Coaches

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UPDATE: In response to a request for comment regarding the suit, the South Orange-Maplewood School District supplied a response which is reported below. Village Green has also reached out to CHS Baseball Boosters Inc for a response and will update the story should one be supplied. 

A former Columbia High School baseball player has filed suit against the South Orange-Maplewood School District, his coaches and several administrators alleging 17 counts of bullying and harassment.

As reported by, the lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Essex County Superior Court, Civil Division, claims that David DeFranco, a 2015 graduate of CHS, was unfairly treated by CHS baseball varsity head coach Joe Fischetti, assistant coach Matthew Becht and others and “had his complaints ignored by the district.”

The suit also names CHS Principal Elizabeth Aaron, former interim superintendent Jim Memoli, Athletic Director Larry Busichio and CHS Baseball Boosters Inc. as defendants.

Read Maplewoodian’s report here.

See the lawsuit here.

The suit follows on a number of complaints by parents of players voiced at Board of Education meetings over the last year, the latest of which was made by parent Randy Nathan at the Board’s January 2016 meeting. Nathan, who is an anti-bullying advocate and author, has also criticized the way the school has handled Harassment-Intimidation-and Bullying (HIB) claims involving his son and other players.

Nathan reported to Village Green that he complained to the New Jersey Department of Education that his son had been cut as retaliation for his father’s outspokenness. After an investigation, the state confirmed the district did not follow the law’s reporting timeline and also said the investigation should have been conducted by the school’s designated anti-bullying specialist. (The state said it did not have enough evidence to rule on Nathan’s allegation of retaliation.)

As a result, the state said SOMSD was required to send its next five investigation reports to the Essex County Office of Education to verify that it is following timelines; conduct proper staff HIB training; and have an anti-bullying specialist conduct all HIB investigations.

Last February, numerous parents came out to speak for and against Fischetti as the Board of Education debated reappointing Fischetti as varsity head coach for the spring 2015 season (he was reappointed). At that time, Fischetti told The Village Green he “obviously” disagreed with comments made by parents regarding bullying and harassment. Addressing the board, he said he had grown up in the community, graduated from CHS and has been a teacher and coach for many years. “I absolutely breathe red and black.”

Read the report on Fischetti’s 2015 reappointment here.

Meanwhile, at its January 2016 meeting, the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education voted to introduce several revised policies concerning the sports program, including appropriate conduct for coaches, parents and staff. The policies are part of an overall district push to educate teachers, administrators, coaches and parents about the state’s anti-bullying law, and to improve its communication efforts as it investigates reported bullying incidents.

Indeed, when asked to comment on the suit, the South Orange-Maplewood School District issued this response:

“The District has received an electronic copy of a complaint concerning allegations arising out of last year’s baseball season. While we cannot comment on any specifics of this lawsuit, or on any matters related to students or personnel due to confidentiality under the law, the Board of Education and the District are taking every measure to ensure we are compliant with all aspects of HIB law and the process and procedures that must be undertaken as a result. It is the Board and the District’s intention that all District programs provide constructive experiences for students, and that we foster an environment where students and parents can come forward to report concerns without fear of reprisals and retaliation. Over the last few months, the Board has drafted several policy changes that impact our athletic programs including on Athletic Department and Coaches, Sportsmanship, Athletic Code of Conduct, and Volunteer Athletic Coaches. These will be voted on in the February 22 BOE meeting. The health, safety and wellbeing of all of our students – whether in the classroom, or on the field of play – is our highest priority.”

The policies reference can be found here:

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