FCPS finds complaint ‘unfounded’
Fairfax County Public Schools’s report on its handling of allegations of sexual harassment against a former girls’ basketball coach at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke found parents’ formal complaint to be “unfounded and without merit,” according to a summary of the findings obtained by The Washington Post.
Superintendent Scott Brabrand, a former associate principal at Lake Braddock, said in the letter that the former coach, John Giannelli, “engaged in improper conduct,” but the school system “has not, however, found any failure on the part of the Leadership Team members or the LBSS administrator specified in the complaint.”
That administrator is Lake Braddock Principal Dave Thomas, who parents say took negligible action when allegedly confronted by faculty with players’ accusations of sexual harassment by Giannelli.
“There is a perception among some in the community that our investigation of these allegations was less than thorough,” Thomas wrote in an email to school parents obtained by The Post. “I want to assure you, as I did for Dr. Brabrand, that we will actively pursue and investigate any and all allegations of sexual harassment or other allegations of inappropriate behavior reported by staff or students.”
Brabrand began his role as FCPS superintendent on Monday and this week reviewed Lake Braddock’s investigative record, according to school system spokesman John Torre. Brabrand met with Thomas later in the week, “where they discussed at length the allegations and subsequent investigation at Lake Braddock [Secondary School],” Torre wrote in an email. “Based on his conversation with Principal Thomas and other FCPS personnel, along with his review of the investigative record, Dr. Brabrand concluded that there was a breach of trust between staff and students and he is confident Principal Thomas will ensure that no such breach occurs in the future.”
Torre’s email did not specify the nature of the “breach” that took place.
The parents’ complaints stemmed from dissatisfaction with perceived inaction on the part of school administrators after a player raised a complaint against Giannelli on Dec. 18, 2015.
Giannelli finished coaching the season before leaving the job in March 2016. Parents and school system officials continue to dispute when upper-level administrators were made aware of the allegations.
Giannelli denies the allegations and maintains he never spoke to school system investigators and was never advised of behavioral issues by Lake Braddock staff.
“How can [FCPS] determine I engaged in improper conduct when nobody contacted me?” Giannelli said. “How can an investigation be done when nobody talks to you? Because I don’t work for the county anymore they figured it was easier to say what they said because they don’t have to deal with me.”
Fairfax County’s inquiry into the school administration’s behavior — which lasted 19 months — led to the forced resignation of Michael Clark, the school’s activities director, and eventually ensnared former football coach and physical education teacher Jim Poythress, who was listed as a primary witness on the parents’ complaint. He was removed as football coach and transferred to Edison High in Alexandria.
Clark and Poythress each declined to comment.
Parents of girls’ basketball players have filed a federal complaint with the Department of Education over potential Title IX violations at the school. Poythress filed a whistleblower complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The Fairfax County School Board discussed the investigation during its closed session Thursday night. Outside the meeting hall, Lake Braddock teachers supporting Thomas held signs reading, “Dave Thomas is a great principal,” and “Dave Thomas is a man of integrity.”
Parents calling for an investigation of the school demonstrated yards away with signs that read, “Do the right thing,” and “What if it was your child?”
“I am personally frustrated with how long this took and I am compassionate to feelings in the community of the same,” Springfield district Board Member Elizabeth Schultz said.
She declined to state if she had confidence in the school system’s investigation.
FCPS told parents it would release its findings before July 4, its fourth self-imposed deadline. But it quietly pushed back the release after an investigation published by The Post on June 29, Schultz said. School system staff wanted Brabrand’s input after the issue at Lake Braddock was made public, she said. The Post’s report revealed investigators had not interviewed Giannelli or any of the alleged victims.
Brabrand’s summary letter said the school district interviewed 14 FCPS employees and 19 students or parents but did not name any witnesses or interview subjects. The letter closes FCPS’s investigation of the school, though parents say they will seek to appeal the ruling.
The Department of Education had closed its investigation into FCPS after the school district missed its July 4 deadline. Federal officials recently encouraged parents to resubmit their complaint based on Fairfax County’s report and The Post’s findings.