Amador County Unified School District and the Amador High School community are looking to move forward now that the investigation into the Amador High varsity football team that started after the discovery of an “disturbing and inappropriate” chat thread in September is finally over.
“Although this has been awful to go through, we did learn a lot about our district,” ACUSD Superintendent Dr. Torie Gibson said.
In a letter to community members on Friday, November 18, Dr. Gibson opened by saying, “This communication will serve as the conclusion to the Amador High School varsity football investigation. On behalf of the Board of Trustees and myself, we took the decision to cancel the Buffaloes’ football season seriously as we know the impact a decision like this has on our students, families and the greater Amador County community. As you are aware, given the severity of the allegations, the decision was made to hire a third party investigator in order to gain a clear perspective on multiple issues reported. The Amador County Unified School District is committed to demonstrating our beliefs that ‘transparency and open communication promote trust for all.’ While we are limited in what details can be provided due to privacy laws, it is important to share our findings as we stated we would initially. There were four main areas of concern that came to our attention requiring the in-depth investigation:
“1. Racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic speech: The investigation revealed that derogatory language and slurs dominated the contents of a group chat among many varsity football students at Amador High School. Many students were forthright and admitted to the hateful and inappropriate language in the chat. Although staff were not aware of the group chat prior to September 14, the chat was used as an Amador Football function. Because of this, the District is required to investigate because it legally falls under a “school sponsored event.” Language of this nature goes against our mission and will not be tolerated.
“2. Bullying: Additionally, the findings revealed a culture of bullying behavior exists among some individuals within the Amador High School varsity football program. This cannot continue and we are taking the necessary steps to ensure a safe environment for all students and staff to meet our District’s core beliefs.
“3. Title IX concerns: Title IX is a Federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and athletics. The investigator learned that students have not always had equal access to our facilities, and that our conditioning program is not conducive to being equitable to all students. Moving forward we will ensure that systems are in place to support equal access to all students.
“4. Hazing allegations: There was a report of an incident initially believed to be hazing among the Amador High School varsity football players. Based on the report, the District was required to notify law enforcement so they could determine if there was a need to investigate. An investigation took place, and local law enforcement concluded that it was not a hazing incident, rather the incident occurred at a private birthday party and was not associated with an Amador football event.
“Thank you to the students and staff who participated in the investigation, as well as the support of our community. As stated in the beginning, we will use this experience as an opportunity to learn and grow so that we can provide the most supportive and safe environment for all. I encourage and ask you if you see something, say something. You can always report directly to district and school site staff, or contact the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Labor Relations at 209-257-5331 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Three Amador High staff members were placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation and two of those staff members – varsity football coach Matt Kantack and Athletic Director Kaleb Cagle – were cleared to return to campus earlier this month when the investigation revealed that neither “had any advance knowledge of the group chat.” Meanwhile, former Amador High Principal Holly Rocha was reassigned earlier this month to a different administrative position within the school district and Katrina Ramos is now serving as Principal at Amador High for the rest of the school year.
The conclusion of the investigation also allows for the resumption of varsity football team-related activities, which were put on hold during the investigation.
In an effort to prevent such incidents from occurring again, one immediate step ACUSD is taking, according to Dr. Gibson, is a change in requirements for the way coaches communicate with their teams.
“We will now require all coaches to only use ParentSquare of district email as a way to communicate with athletes and parents,” Dr. Gibson said. “Students will also be set up to use StudentSquare for team activities and conversations. This will help us avoid issues with personal devices being ‘district business’ as it relates to school-sponsored events and teams.
“In addition, we have also discovered some significant holes in our systems as it relates to clearing coaches and students to play. We have a new program that allows us to track all of the requirements and they will receive formal clearance from HR. … Many years of lacking systems is what continues to rear its ugly head that we keep chipping away at fixing.”
While the investigation into the varsity football team cast a dark shadow over the whole Amador High School community over the past couple of months, students and teachers throughout the school have been working hard to not let this incident define them or the school.
“Amador High School prides itself on helping students learn to be good humans and positive members of the community,” shared members of the Amador High ASB class at the Big Game rally in October. “Thank you to all of our advisors, teachers, coaches and community members who work with our students every day. We are so much more. We are resilient, we are responsible, we are dedicated, we are encouraging. … We are Amador.”