Though he wasn’t on the agenda, ex-Wooster coach Ron Malcolm dominated Tuesday afternoon’s meeting of the Washoe County (Nev.) School District Board of Trustees.
The district’s board room was brimming with more than 100 people wearing red and white “Justice for Coach Malcolm” stickers. They’d filled the boardroom and two overflow rooms to capacity — it was standing room only.
They were there to support the former Wooster High School varsity baseball and volleyball coach, who has been relieved of his coaching duties after a school district investigation substantiated an African-American student athlete’s claims that he bullied her based on the color of her skin.
Malcolm, a 28-year teaching and coaching veteran who also teaches health at Wooster, denies her claims and is appealing the school district’s decision.
While he’s been removed as a coach, he remains as a teacher at Wooster.
The family of Hannah Chatfield, the 15-year-old Wooster sophomore and International Baccalaureate student who made the claim against Malcolm, was not present at the meeting.
Sharise Chatfield, Hannah’s mother, told the Reno Gazette Journal in a phone interview Tuesday night that she doesn’t believe Malcolm should be allowed to teach any longer — a statement she’s made before.
“I believe with all my heart that past behavior predicts what you will do in the future,” she said. “And if he’s not held accountable for what he said and did … I don’t know what he will and will not do with anybody else.”
The findings of the district’s investigation into the incident indicate Malcolm used the color of Hannah Chatfield’s skin as a put-down during a game called “insults and compliments” played at an Oct. 18 volleyball practice.
Players were complimented when they performed well and were insulted when they did not.
Sharise Chatfield, Hannah’s mother, told the Reno Gazette Journal on Saturday that her teammates’ chosen “insult” was that she was a “lefty,” or left-handed, which caused her to make errors, they said.
Malcolm, Hannah later told her parents, joined in with a different comment.
“You’re black,” Malcolm said to Hannah, according to her mother.
His assistant and another coach present told Malcolm he couldn’t say that, according to Sharise Chatfield.
“I don’t think he appreciated that,” she said.
According to Sharise Chatfield, Malcolm turned to Hannah and repeated himself: “You’re black.”
This, according to a letter detailing the investigation sent to the Chatfields by Wooster principal Leah Keuscher, “meet the qualifications for bullying,” which led to his removal as a coach.
Malcolm’s hundred-plus supporters, 31 of whom spoke to the school board on Tuesday night, said this doesn’t reflect Malcolm’s character.
Even if he did make the racially degrading comment, they said, his removal as a coach is too extreme of a punishment.
Trevor O’Sullivan and Zac Bryson played on Malcolm’s varsity baseball team from 2000 to 2003 — they were even bat boys for his team while in middle school. They’re spearheading his support group and started a Facebook page, “Justice for Ron Malcolm,” that’s garnered more than 1,200 members since it started two weeks ago.
“Can you maybe say something accidentally insensitive? I know I have,” O’Sullivan said to the RGJ during a break in Tuesday’s meeting.
“Does that mean I should be fired from something that I do? No,” he said, answering his own question. “Absolutely not.”
Along with their comments, they submitted a more than 50 page document that included the more than 6,000 posts, comments and interactions that have been made on their page.
“I think it just speaks volumes towards his character,” Bryson said. “That this support just kind of came out of nowhere.”
Many of Malcolm’s supporters, which included former players and students, parents and coaches from other schools, spoke to his character. They told often emotional stories about him guiding them through difficult times in their lives.
Acknowledgment of the district’s investigation, which interviewed 12 students and 2 staff members and substantiated the claims against him, was sparse.
When they did acknowledge the investigation, they said that his removal from coaching was not the answer to the problem.
Regardless whether a supporter believed Malcom made the comment, those speaking Tuesday said they didn’t think his punishment fit the crime.
Sharise Chatfield disagrees. She doesn’t think the punishment has gone far enough — Malcolm, she said, shouldn’t be allowed to teach children anymore.
“We would not be here if he would have picked the phone up and called us,” she said, noting that there was never a hesitation to call if the team needed money or food.
“But I couldn’t get an ‘I made a mistake’?” she asked. “I don’t know, I just think it was very blatant.”
Malcolm did apologize to Hannah Chatfield the day after the incident, trying to clarify that he only intended to insult one of her characteristics. But Sharise Chatfield said his apology to Hannah made the situation worse.
His apology is documented in principal Keuscher’s letter.
According to the letter, he told Hannah Chatfield that he could have insulted her on one of her other characteristics, like naming a facial feature or her hairstyle.
“He may have done great things,” Sharise Chatfield said. “But in this one he messed up.”
Ron Malcolm and his removal as a coach was not on the school board’s agenda Tuesday night, so they couldn’t respond to any of the public comment. But Trustee Debra Feemster closed the meeting by requesting more information on the district’s cultural competency training for teachers and coaches.
“Teachers should know better,” she said in an interview with the Reno Gazette Journal following the meeting, referring to Malcolm.
Feemster was a principal in Washoe County for 17 years and taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels before that. She was also the district’s first diversity director.
“You don’t go into the teaching profession to demean, humiliate or belittle students,” she said.