FCPS finds complaint ‘un­founded’

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JA­COB BOGAGE ja­cob.bogage@wash­post.com

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.

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