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Superintendent Faced Pressure Over Racism Suspension

Jason Scott

An investigation into allegations of racism on a high school football team found that a member of the school board, as well as the father of the player accused of racism, used their influence to pressure the school superintendent to intervene regarding the player's punishment. 

The Record-Courier reports that the situation began early in the football season when an unnamed player for the Rootstown (Ohio) High School football team used a racial slur against a teammate. Hours later, the two engaged in a physical fight. Several weeks later, the player who allegedly used the slur made a derogatory comment about another player’s nationality. 

On Sept. 3, then-head coach Troy Spiker suspended the player for the season, in consultation with superintendent Andrew Hawkins, principal James Conley and athletic director Keith Waesch. 

Three days later, however, Hawkins reinstated the player, and Spiker resigned. 

SACS Investigative Services was brought in to conduct an independent investigation of the situation, and to determine whether there was ongoing racism within the program. The investigative firm’s CEO Timothy Dimoff presented the results of that investigation on Monday.

“There have been no reports to anyone in the athletic department, District administration, or Board of Education that there is fear or intimidation or pervasive racism within the football program that would make the program unsafe for any student," the firm’s investigation report states.

However, the investigation did uncover evidence that the father of the suspended player and Steven Vasbinder, a member of the school board, pressured Hawkins to overturn the suspension.

The report indicates that the boy’s father was “adamant, angry and threatening,” to both Spiker and Hawkins, telling Spiker, “My son will play and you’ll lose your job.”

Meanwhile, Vasbinder called the season-long suspension a “major mistake,” and repeatedly contacted other board members, school administrators and coaches to call for Spiker’s resignation. 

“Vasbinder exceeded school board authority and that he pressured Hawkins to reverse or reduce suspension," Dimoff’s report states. Vasbinder, recognizing he had overstepped, ultimately wound up resigning from his position on the school board. 

Dimoff’s investigation concluded that the district needs to review its current communications procedures, and recommended that the high school use equal disciplinary guidelines across the entire district, provide a clear time frame for decision making, provide training to new board members, implement an anonymous tip line, and continue working with community stakeholders.

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