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Track Coach Hopes to Discuss Firing with School Officials

Although he's making no predictions for the outcome, varsity track coach Tom Davis said he will continue to try to speak with officials after being fired last week.

's varsity boys track coach Tom Davis said Thursday that, after being fired last week due to his athletes running shirtless during practice, he's hoping to eventually hold a meeting with school administrators to discuss the situation. 

When asked if he would have done anything differently, Davis responded, "The reality is, I strongly disagree with what they were trying to enforce, and strongly disagree with the way they went about enforcing it. Am I supposed to be a puppet and bow down to the demands? A lot of people would say yes, but I disagree."

Davis was fired last Friday after Westwood Athletic Director Karl Fogel approached one of the track team's athletes for running without a shirt on during practice, an issue Davis said had been raised several times during the preceding weeks.

"A few weeks ago, the school expressed to me that a few girls on the track team were uncomfortable that some of the boys were running shirtless," Davis said. "A week later, (Fogel) confronted another student for having a shirt off after coming back from a run. After that confrontation, I emailed (Fogel), saying we need to discuss the issue."

By that point, Davis said he was unaware that an actual rule was in place that restricted teammates from running with their shirts off. Fogel related to him that it had been discussed and decided that the players were not allowed to run shirtless. 

"They just came up with that rule on the spot," Davis said. "It was never professionally expressed to me ever, period. I had tried three previous times to meet with the administration, and all my requests were ignored."

Another incident was reported to Fogel by High School Principal Emily Parks, Davis said, after which Fogel warned Davis to enforce the policy. Davis said he then told his team that they could risk being kicked off if they continued to run shirtless. 

Then came last Friday, when Fogel and Davis engaged in a heated discussion after Davis intervened when Fogel had approached a teammate about running shirtless, Davis said. That incident resulted in Davis's firing and Fogel demanding that he leave the property. 

Davis said he then went to grab his equipment and then went on a cool-down run with his team. When he returned, he was approached by Assistant Principal Sean Bevan and Superintendent John Antonucci, who said they were there to escort him out, according to Davis. 

Antonucci said Thursday that he couldn't address the matter in detail, but said Davis's firing wasn't a result of one particular incident.

"While I cannot discuss the specifics of a confidential personnel matter, I can assure that Friday's decision to relieve Mr. Davis of his duties was not the result of a single incident, but rather the regrettable outcome of an ongoing discussion," Antonucci said in a statement. "It is my responsibility to ensure that our employees implement programs in a way that is consistent with the overall mission of the Westwood Public Schools."

Fogel said Thursday that he wasn't at liberty to comment on the situation.

"I can't speak about it," he said. "It's a personnel matter, and there's confidentiality involved."

One Westwood High School parent said Thursday that Fogel is an asset for the Westwood Athletic Department, and brings stength to the program. 

"He's very much involved and he's always there, and he goes the extra mile for the town and for the school," said Frank Barounis, whose children have been playing varsity sports in Westwood for nearly five years. "He's a big positive for the department."

Davis led the track team to 5-0 before his firing last week; they sustained their first loss of the spring season on Monday. During the winter season, the boys' posted a time of 7:57.59 during the All-States to break a meet record of 8:01.13 set by Newton North High School in 1998. 

Assistant Coach Joe Masica has taken over coaching the team for the remainder of the season. 

Anthony Zarat May 09, 2011 at 08:34 PM
"It's the teacher's responsibility to uphold school policy/supervisor's wishes FIRST." NO! It is the teacher's responsibility to uphold the student's SAFETY first Heat illness is the number 1 threat to student safety in US schools. According to the Centres for Disease Control, there are an average of 9,237 serious cases of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or heat illness in US schools each year: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5932a1.htm The exact instructions that Tom Davis gave to his students were, (1) always wear your shirts, unless (2) you feel like your health may be at risk. This is the bare minimum that is required by law, and anything less would have exposed the school to liability if a student were injured or killed due to heat stroke. Incompetent Westwood High principal Emily Parks, now promoted to superintendent, was responsible for this outrage. She was more interested in political correctness and the sensibilities of a few female athletes that did not like seeing occasional shirtless boys, than she was to the safety of her students. Parks should immediately be fired for putting her career and ambitions ahead of the lives of her students, and Tom Davis should be re-instated as coach. Is this what we do to the few teachers who still care about the lives of students? Fire them because a few girls don't like seeing shirtless boys? Liberal politics and political correctness run a-muck have gone far enough.
Edu Thinker May 10, 2011 at 12:06 AM
@ Anthony Zarat: I knew someone would come back with the safety first issue. OF COURSE educators should be concerned about student safety. I am simply referring to chain of command. Also, there is no mention in any of these articles that anyone was suffering from heat exhaustion etc., if so I am sure it would be plastered in the papers. Furthermore, the number one treatment for heat exhaustion is hydration not taking off a shirt. My son plays sports (we have the same policy here) and they drink water like crazy and even pour it on heads/necks. Get a drink of water! Keep your shirt on. This is ridiculous. In addition, I am furthest from "liberal" I am a former US Congressional Staffer for one of the most conservative lawmakers. I got back into education because of what you say, "liberal political correctness." I do not condone insubordination in any form. We are raising a generation of students who think they can buck school policies, whine, and go online or to the press if they have negative consequences to deal with. People need to take responsibility. This is nothing to do with shirts or what gender was/was not wearing them, and everything to do with a teacher who had a history (if you're following the news), of insubordinate behavior. I hardly think that the superintendent is responsible for the actions of a few students and coaches. Again, the coach should never have been insubordinate in public to his administration.
Greg Agnew May 10, 2011 at 02:54 PM
This situation is missing a lot of the key facts, facts that I assume Westwood High and the Administration won't release for obvious reasons. There are a lot of angry parents, educators, and students out there in Westwood, waiting for a proper explanation as to what occurred that day, and most of them side with the Tom Davis. However, these facts are simple: under no circumstances should ANYONE be terminated on the spot for insubordination. This is a matter that must be discussed behind closed doors. Both parties involved in the discussion regarding "shirtlessness" lost their cools, and should have had time to collect their thoughts before entering into a discussion regarding future employment or the direction of the track program. Too often, good people are removed from their jobs due to "heat of the moment" decisions that are later regarded as the wrong thing to do. Firing the boys track coach was the wrong thing to do. I have had a chance to speak with Administrators, current teachers, and track & field athletes on this issue, and all are in agreement: Fogel was out of line. Given his past aggressive experience with students, he should have been removed from the situation. Given the utter idiocy of the "under no circumstances should an athlete be without a shirt" rule, the coach was simply trying to put into perspective that one ONE student removed his shirt due to discomfort, and practice was almost over. This was not an issue that should have been discussed.
WW citizen May 12, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Fogel should be the one fired..his anger issues are out of control. He should have been fired when he struck a student in 2008--regardless of the parents' desire not to press charges. Similar to domestic violence, the police should have pressed charges on behalf of the student. Why any superintendent would have retained any staff member who assaults a youngster is beyond belief. Antonucci is and never has been ready for prime-time--he is no Paul Ash. So let's ask the question: What would Paul Ash have done?
Greg Agnew May 21, 2011 at 06:01 AM
I agree with the comment concerning the termination of AD Karl Fogel. However, in defense of John Antonucci, I'm glad we have a Superintendent who lives in the town for which he Administrates, and has children in the school system. Having been a student under the "direction" of Paul Ash, he was the worst of the worst as far as intelligence, curriculum and personnel decisions were concerned. On the other hand, I'd hire him back for one day to remove Fogel.

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