Editor’s note, 8/31 4:45 p.m.: this article has been updated with a comment from Dr. John Ramos, Supt. of the South Orange – Maplewood School District, comments from the coaches’ attorney, and additional details and clarification on the process from a district spokeswoman.
The South Orange – Maplewood School District has posted a job opening for a Columbia High School Head Varsity Baseball Coach, the position currently occupied by embattled coach Joseph Fischetti.
The job posting, seen here, was released on Tuesday.
“It is the district’s responsibility to repost coaching positions every year,” said Supt. Dr. John Ramos in a statement to the Village Green on Wednesday. “Moreover, in the case of baseball, the district has decided to go in a new direction – something that happens in sports all the time across the country and at every level of competition.”
In July, a district spokeswoman said that Ramos would make recommendations to the Board of Education in August on whether to reappoint Fischetti and the other coaches, following the completion of a report by an independent investigator on bullying complaints. “We received the HIB report and recommendations from [the investigator],” said the spokeswoman.
Ramos made no public comments about the issue at the BOE’s August 22 meeting; however, he did report to the Board in closed session and the BOE voted to affirm the regular monthly HIB report, which included the results of the independent investigation into the baseball program.
The BOE will vote on the reappointment of all district coaches in February, as it does each year, said the spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, Fischetti and Becht’s attorney, Steve Farsiou, said in a phone interview that the district’s decision was “a rush to judgment and should not have been done now.” He called the initial allegations an issue of “a couple of disgruntled players” that has “nothing to do with the HIB law.”
Farsiou, who was retained by the coaches in the last couple of weeks, said he had received a letter from Dr. Ramos on August 9 stating that the investigation found one incident of violation of the HIB law in 2014, for what he said was “inappropriate language.” He noted that since the HIB law mandates strict timelines for reporting and acting on complaints, that incident should not be relevant to the coaches’ reappointment for the 2017 season.
“My clients plan on pursuing all due process rights under the law,” Farsiou said. “Everything they were told to do in 2016 [following the initial investigations of bullying complaints] they have done” and there were no HIB complaints in the baseball program in 2016. “I don’t know what changed.”
“I hope the BOE will be wise and retain [the coaches] and not create havoc,” he said. “If they don’t do the right thing, we are going to very aggressively defend [the coaches’ position.]”
Several weeks ago, The Village Green filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for information related to the independent investigation and report. The district denied the request, stating that it was exempt from providing the information under the OPRA law “since the report contains information and opinions that are considered advisory, consultative and deliberative…”
Parent Randy Nathan, who alleged his son was subjected to bullying by the coaches during his time on the team, previously complained to the county office of the New Jersey Department of Education about the district’s handling of the HIB allegations. IN January, 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.
William Krais, president of the CHS Baseball Boosters, told Village Green Tuesday that since the coaches’ reappointment, “the team enjoyed great success both on and off the field, and, other than the occasional gripe about playing time, there were no allegations of inappropriate conduct by any of the coaches in the baseball program. Simply put, the 2016 baseball program was, by all accounts, a model that other athletic programs at CHS should endeavor to follow.”
Krais said that “[n]early all of the players who participated in the baseball program last season signed a petition in support of the coaches and have continued to express support for their coaches….because they know that these are good coaches who have the interests of the students and Columbia High School at heart.”
In addition, Krais said, the coaches have been “widely supported” by co-workers, parents and alums, as well as by CHS Principal Elizabeth Aaron and Athletic Director Larry Busichio.
“It is difficult to imagine, therefore, that the superintendent and school board would now substitute their judgment for the recommendations of these others, as they have done by posting as vacant the head baseball coaching position,” said Krais.
In February, a divided board voted to reappoint Fischetti and the other coaches, although Ramos had previously said his recommendation to retain the coaches would be qualified by the results of the independent investigation by Dr. Leroy Seitz.
The board voted 6-3 to reappoint Fischetti and Asst. Coach Matthew Becht, with Elizabeth Baker, Johanna Wright and Chris Sabin dissenting. JV Assistant Coach Sam Maietta was unanimously rehired, while Freshman Coach Stephen Campos was reappointed 5-4, with Madhu Pai, Annemarie Maini, Baker and Maureen Jones dissenting.
Fischetti is currently still listed as a Physical Education teacher at CHS, a position in which he is tenured.