The Baker School Board on Tuesday upheld Superintendent Mark Witty’s decision to dismiss a Baker High School coach from his duties with the baseball team and any future duties with the girls volleyball team.
Warren Wilson, head girls volleyball coach since the 2015 season, who also had been a pitching coach for BHS baseball, was fired after an investigation of complaints against him related to this past volleyball season.
Gary Carter was one of three people who spoke in support of Wilson during the meeting.
Carter, whose daughter, Anna, a BHS junior, plays on the volleyball team, criticized the way the investigation of what he called a “sexual harassment complaint” against Wilson was handled.
“The policy says all concerned parties will be invited to meet and discuss the complaint,” Carter said.
He does not believe that was done. Of the more than 30 athletes who could have spoken about the issue, only a few came forward to speak during the investigation of the complaints, Carter said.
It was his understanding that Wilson was dismissed because he was considered “a liability” to the District.
“I conclude he was dismissed as a liability due to sexual harassment,” Carter said. “And there is inconclusive evidence to conclude that sexual harassment had occurred.
“Sexual harassment of student athletes is a serious allegation that will follow him for the rest of his life,” Carter said. “This was not fair and it doesn’t even seem legal.”
The complaints that prompted the school district’s investigation weren’t the first against Wilson.
The Oregon Teachers Standards and Practices Commission investigated similar complaints against Wilson in August 2015 related to his role as girls junior varsity basketball coach in 2014.
The Commission, in a finding dated Nov. 9, 2017, found that Wilson “exhibited a pattern of behaviors that made student athletes feel uncomfortable.” As a result Wilson’s teaching license was suspended for 60 days and he was placed on two years’ probation, which will expire in November 2019. He also was ordered to complete training related to student/teacher boundaries within the first year of probation.
The finding is available online at www.tspc.state.or.us/temp_images/T00077729PR01906784.pdf
The Board first met Tuesday in an executive (closed to the public) session before moving to open session to take action.
About 25 people, including members of Wilson’s BHS volleyball team, attended the open meeting at which the board voted unanimously to uphold Wilson’s termination.
Wilson, who was in the audience, declined to comment after the meeting.
In addition to Carter, two others spoke in Wilson’s defense: Averi Elms, a BHS junior who has played volleyball for Wilson for three years; and Molly Smith, principal at North Powder Charter School where Wilson is the head boys basketball coach. Smith also is the wife of BHS athletic director Tim Smith, who is head baseball coach at BHS.
Molly Smith told the Board that she has known Wilson since she was in high school and that his background is “impeccable.”
He retired from a 33-year teaching career for the Wallowa School District in 2004 and also served as the district’s activities director and athletic director. During his tenure there he coached high school baseball, boys and girls basketball and volleyball as well as junior high sports.
Smith was critical of how the District handled the complaints against Wilson.
She maintained that Wilson’s contract for baseball season, which had been signed in August, should not have been terminated after the season had started.
Baseball season got underway Feb. 11 and those coaching pitchers and catchers can start two weeks earlier than that, she said.
“His reputation has been damaged as a result of the school board not following its own policies,” Smith said. “You can see the support here and this is without baseball and the other athletes.”
The boys baseball team was out of town for a game at Nyssa Tuesday. Otherwise, Smith assured the Board, her son, Spencer, and his teammates would have attended the meeting to show support for Wilson.
Averi Elms told the Board that she has known Wilson since he moved to Baker City.
“Not once have I ever felt uncomfortable in his presence,” she said. “ He has helped us so much in our volleyball and in our personal lives.”
She asked the Board not to be influenced by a few players who are dissatisfied with the coach.
“Don’t let players who don’t agree with their playing time come in and tear our volleyball family apart,” she said.
Before taking action, Board Chairman Chris Hawkins, thanked those who attended Tuesday’s meeting as well as those who came forward with complaints about Wilson, allowing the Board to receive and review all pertinent information before making a decision.
The Board agreed in the open meeting to seek an audit of how District policies are followed when complaints are made.
Hawkins said he was concerned about why it was necessary for the complaints to be brought to the Board rather than being resolved at a lower level.
“How we got to this point in the first place is a little concerning to me,” Hawkins said.
He said the audit would look at how the district conducts hiring and background checks as well as other policies regarding public complaints and sexual harassment.
“And I would say not just for this instance, but districtwide,” he said.
Director Julie Huntington added that auditing how district policies are used would help improve safety throughout the district.
“Our policies protect our students, protect our staff and protects our administration,” she said.
See more in the March 20, 2019, issue of the Baker City Herald.