In a tearful, impassioned speech to San Ramon Valley Unified's Board of Education on Nov. 13, California High School's Bob Donovan implored the school district to change its policies regarding parent complaints. Donovan, who coached men's varsity basketball for the past two years and from 1983-1990, was allegedly forced to resign amid unsubstantiated accusations.
"Our reputations and careers are not safe in the hands of this district. I respectfully request that you reconsider procedures for addressing complaints," Donovan told the Board. "You the school board and district administration have the power but need the courage to confront parents when they're wrong, confront them with their lies and support your faculty and staff."
According to his 11-minute speech delivered to the Board of Education during public comment, Donovan was subject to several school-led investigations after anonymous emails called into question his judgment, language and conduct during games and practice. Donovan was exonerated on all accounts by Cal Principal Mark Corti and later by various school district administrators.
"In 2011 I found myself part of an anonymous and orchestrated campaign to ruin my reputation. These lies and untrue accusations have turned into libelous harassment and I believe school district officials have a responsibility to support and protect me from this harassment," Donovan said. "I am at a loss to understand why (the district)has given so much weight to anonymous letters."
A formal complaint was filed with the district last June regarding an incident that occurred in October 2010, when Donovan invited former high school and college basketball coach Michael Phelps to observe an open gym, The Californian (Cal's student newspaper) reported. Phelps, who coached Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland for nearly 25 years, was charged in 2003 with lewd and lascivious behavior with a minor for an incident that allegedly occurred in 1966; charges were dropped that same year.
Although district officials wouldn't comment on the Phelps issue, varsity basketball Team Manager and Cal High senior Oren Abrahams said the incident was reported in retaliation. District officials called Donovan's judgment of the situation questionable and, according to the school board presentation, told him to resign or be fired.
"It was brought up this year because, at the beginning of the summer during the summer league game at Las Positas. Donovan didn't play a kid a ton because he didn't come to many open gyms or workouts," Oren said. "The kid's dad stormed out of his seat and was screaming at Donovan. Ever since that day, it was this dad's mission to get Donovan fired and so somehow he found out about Phelps and emailed it to the board."
In response to the resignation, Oren created a petition which calls for the school district to make a public apology for the forced resignation. Oren said he and a former Cal student will change the language of the petition soon as Donovan doesn't want a public apology and, instead, would like a change in policy.
"He was a great mentor for me and a great teacher. I want to become a coach when I grow up and I really learned from him," Oren said. "Parents don't get what they want, then they fight for it and the district doesn't do anything about it and pleases the parents. I was kind of just really disturbed by the way this whole thing was handled so I started this petition."
San Ramon Valley Unified officials denied parent involvement as the reason for Donovan's resignation, citing formal complaints sent to the district as well as a number of investigations.
"Parents do not decide the fate of a coach or a teacher or anybody employed in the district. That decision rests solely between the employee and the school district," said Community Relations Coordinator Terry Koehne. "Do parents have the right to bring forth an issue or complaint? Absolutely, and there are formal procedures for that."
By law, the Board of Education could not respond to Donovan's remarks because they were made during the public comment portion of the agenda. In order to present his case for changing district policy, Donovan or the petition organizers would need to request a formal agenda item, Koehne noted.
Still, according to Donovan, Oren and The Californian, coach resignations are not uncommon. The Californian cited three coaches who resigned or were "forced out" due to similar parent pressure. Women's varsity basketball coach Eghosa Obaiza, varsity baseball coach Dan Ward and former varsity baseball coach and AP Chemistry teacher Brian Coburn all stepped down; Obaiza told The Californian that she felt unfairly represented in the review process.
"We have a school that systematically does not handle these situations well," said Obaiza, who also teaches English.
Although Donovan is still allowed to teach social studies, he questioned the principles behind the school district's reasoning.
"I was told that I could be trusted to teach 340 students a year. This hypocrisy itself brings into question the ethics of the district's discussion and the lack of transparency on why I'm not allowed to coach," he said.
Agendas for the Dec. 11 School Board meeting are not yet available and while Donovan and his supporters may seek a formal agenda item, Donovan said he will not coach at Cal again.
"Complaints need to be investigated, but once a faculty or staff member is exonerated....there should be some presumption of innocence. I am not seeking to be reinstated as a basketball coach, given the lack of support from my superiors I wouldn't accept the position if it were offered to me," he said.