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Former Franklin coach: Complaint on superintendent, two school board members more than personal

The Franklin football coach who was fired in April has filed complaints with the New Hampshire Department of Education, the state Board of Education and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in Boston, all alleging misconduct by the superintendent and two school board members.

Greg Husband was released from his position after the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association determined Franklin football players committed unsportsmanlike conduct at the state championship football game earlier last fall. A vocal group of Franklin residents has supported Husband since his firing, and one former player submitted a petition to the city council in June calling for the removal of board members Kathleen Russo and Ray Yonaitis. The city council held a public hearing on those petitions last night, although a judge has stated a court would likely find the council has no authority to actually unseat them.

Husband says his complaints against Yonaitis, Russo and Superintendent Maureen Ward go deeper than his firing. In his complaints, he says his allegations that Ward harassed him were not properly investigated and that the board violated policy by conducting an email meeting to deny him an appeal. Beyond his firing, he says the district has mishandled the implementation of students’ special education plans, including his own son’s.

“This is beyond my own personal complaint, this is a district-wide problem, and now it is a community problem,” he wrote in his complaint to the state board. “I have witnesses and numerous emails to support my claim. This has impacted me for the past 14 months, but it has been transpiring longer than that. It has been transpiring since Dr. Ward assumed the superintendent’s role.”

Ward’s attorney, Andru Volinsky, did not discuss Husband’s complaints individually but said they should be heard with caution.

“These are allegations brought by people who have obvious personal grievances with the school district and the superintendent, and any allegations they make should be viewed as being made by people with a grudge,” he said.

The school district’s attorney, Melissa Hewey, said because of confidentiality issues, the school district cannot fully defend itself in such circumstances.

“I think this is somewhat unfair to the school board, because some of the things that he is alleging are in our view inaccurate, but because of confidentiality laws, we can’t tell our side of the story,” said Hewey, adding that she had not seen a copy of the complaints. “So this entire process seems extremely unfair to me because it puts individuals and (the) entire school board on trial without giving them the opportunity to say anything themselves.”

Officials from the state Board of Education and Department of Education could not discuss Husband’s allegations, but said all complaints are investigated.

Husband alleges the district denied him due process on several occasions. Ward made disparaging comments about his marital status in June 2012, his complaints say, and made fundraising for the annual high school football camp unnecessarily difficult. In August, he says, he told the athletic director and principal that he was being harassed by Ward, and he later filed a complaint with the School Administrative Unit 18 school board. The investigator did not question any of the witnesses he suggested, according to his complaints; in October, the school board voted in a nonpublic session to send him a letter saying the matter was closed.

The Franklin School Board voted in a nonpublic session April 15 to terminate Husband as football coach. According to his complaints, he was not aware of the meeting until the principal and athletic director told him the next day he had been fired. In his complaint, Husband says he provided Yonaitis with several witnesses and a video to counter the accusations of misconduct by his players, but the board would not look into any of it. His request for an appeal was denied, and, according to his complaints, he later learned the board vote had occurred via email.

Policies on the district’s website state email cannot be used as a substitute for board meetings or to discuss confidential matters. If emails go to a quorum of the board about official district business, the contents of those emails must be publicly disclosed, the policy says. There is no mention in board meeting minutes from April, May or June of Husband’s appeal.

Husband also alleges the school district did not properly implement his son’s 504 plan, a plan that provides accommodations to students who have a disability. It is less extensive than an individual education plan, known as an IEP. According to Husband’s complaints, several teachers were unaware his son had a 504, and his son was frequently disciplined inappropriately as a result. In early July, Husband complained about this to the board, his complaints say, and he produced documents showing that an investigation by the Office for Civil Rights into an Arizona school where Ward previously worked found 504s and IEPs were not handled correctly. Ward resigned shortly before the investigation began, but the final report found violations had occurred during the 2004-2005 school year, when she was still superintendent.

Hewey, the school district’s attorney, said she hopes the Office for Civil Rights looks into that complaint because she is confident an investigation will find no wrongdoing and the concerns will be cleared up.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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