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Copyright 2014 Ventura County Star
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Ventura County Star (California)
Rachel McGrath

The president of the Westlake High School football boosters club and members of the school's PTA executive board are leading the charge against claims that football players receive preferential treatment and sexual harassment is common on campus.

Those are some of the allegations made at recent school board meetings by Larry and Gina Conti and supporters. They are locked in a bitter battle with the Conejo Valley Unified School District over their son's suspension and removal from office as senior class president.

Larry Conti and son Dominic had a physical altercation with a 14-year-old freshman football player at a game in October. The Contis claim the player was sexually harassing Dominic's sister, also a freshman, and the school was doing nothing about it.

For the first time since the controversy began, boosters President Becki Wood and other parents of football players came to a school board meeting to defend the football program.

"My boys have learned so much from this program. My husband and I feel they all have become the best men possible largely because of the Westlake football coaches and what the program stands for," Wood told the school board Tuesday night.

"Unfortunately, I have heard many negative accusations over the past months. These accusations have no merit," said Wood, who submitted letters from football players to district Superintendent Jeff Baarstad.

"What I take issue with is the broad brush smearing of the football program," said Don Schmitz, whose two sons play football at Westlake.

"Football players in many regards are held to a higher standard. How many in the broad student body have to take random drug tests? All the football players do," he said. "I think the football program should be left alone. It's not part of the problem."

Jill Severino, the PTA vice president of volunteers, said the Contis are tearing down the reputations of the school and its principal to deflect blame for their actions at the Oct. 11 football game.

"On that night, they let their anger override reason and made a very bad mistake of judgment - a mistake for which the consequences have been bitter but necessary and fair," said Severino.

Westlake senior Meghan Wells, 18, told the board Tuesday that she has never felt unsafe on campus.

"I am proud to attend an outstanding high school. I came here tonight to stick up for my school," said Wells.

Supporters of the Contis, however, continued Tuesday to press for Dominic's suspension to be revoked and to accuse the administration of covering up sexual harassment of girls at the school.

After public comments, board member Mike Dunn said it's clear where the blame lies.

"There's one person who started all this, who must take the responsibility for all the controversy that has taken place - and that's the student who made those sexually harassing comments to that 14-year-old girl. He's the one who started all this," said Dunn.

Board member Betsy Connolly said she believes there's a good system in place to deal with student concerns and assist those who ask for help.

"Can we get better? I am sure we can. Has this been a thought-provoking experience? Yes. But what has gone on (at the board meetings) has not helped to move that process along in an effective manner," said Connolly.


March 20, 2014




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