Agency clears coaches

The Frederick County Department of Social Services has cleared several Strasburg High School boys’ basketball coaches of wrongdoing in an incident that led to the filing of criminal charges against seven students.

The incident also led to four school system employees losing contracts pertaining to coaching and other extracurricular duties.

The investigation by Frederick County is one of three launched into the incident on a school bus carrying members of the boys’ basketball team back to Strasburg from a game in Moorefield, West Virginia, on Dec. 19.

Law enforcement officials began one investigation when school officials fielded the first report of the incident in mid-January. Seven students were later charged with assault by mob in a case that is still pending in Shenandoah County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

School system officials then initiated an independent investigation by a Leesburg attorney in accordance with requirements in Title IX, a federal civil rights law.

Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy C. Carter and Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda McDonald Wiseley said they did not have enough evidence to file charges involving sexual misconduct against anyone on the school bus. But the Title IX attorney hired by the school system backed up earlier reports that the incident had involved one or more sexual assaults.

Frederick County officials refused to comment on the outcome of their investigation, but Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley and others confirmed Wednesday they had received information clearing coaches who were riding on the school bus.

“Yeah, they did call us by telephone and let us know it was an unfounded case,” Raley said of Frederick County DSS officials. Raley added that someone on the school’s administrative staff had taken the phone call, but he had not spoken directly with anyone from DSS.

Raley said the DSS investigation does not change any of the conclusions he has reached about the incident or recommendations he has made to the School Board about actions to be taken against students or school employees.

Raley said each entity investigating the incident – the Sheriff’s Office, Commonwealth’s Attorney, Shenandoah County Public Schools and Frederick County Department of Social Services – has its own standards in evaluating the conduct of students and adults.

“The recommendations I made to the School Board and approved by the School Board is based on our school division standards, our school division policies and our school division values,” Raley said. “(The DSS) determination does not have any impact on the work we have done to date.”

Karen Vacchio, the public information officer for Frederick County, said the Shenandoah County Department of Social Services called on Frederick County to conduct the investigation.

“They had a conflict of interest, and they asked Frederick County to do it,” Vacchio said.

Vacchio added that the Frederick County Department of Social Services does not provide details on investigations involving juveniles nor does it disclose conclusions that were reached in such cases.

Eric Wiseley, a Front Royal defense attorney who is representing one of the coaches in the case, said in an email message that the Frederick County DSS had informed him by telephone that his client and other coaches had been cleared of wrongdoing. Wiseley is married to Amanda McDonald Wiseley.

“My information is that all the coaches were investigated by DSS …,” Eric Wiseley wrote. “All investigations were unfounded.

“My understanding is that all three cooperated with all investigations in every way. However, it should have been clear all along that the coaches did nothing to warrant this kind of scrutiny.”

David Silek, a defense attorney representing one of the students, said he had learned of the outcome of the investigation after his client received a phone call from DSS.

Silek, who has been a relentless critic of Raley and other school officials since the investigation began, said the DSS findings support his contention that the incident involved nothing more than “locker room antics, not a criminal offense.”

“Frederick County, an independent third party, has deemed such allegations unfounded, which is in stark contrast to the Title IX report,” Silek said.

The School Board has filed a lawsuit against Carter in an effort to obtain the videotape of the incident. The videotape, which was recorded on the surveillance system on the school bus, has been cited by Raley and the Title IX investigator as a key piece of evidence showing sexual misconduct by students on the bus. School administration officials gave the videotape to law enforcement officials as the investigation began, but board members have yet to see it.

Karen Whetzel, chairwoman of the School Board, and Rick Koontz, the board’s vice chair, sent a letter to students, parents and school staff on Monday reaffirming their support for Raley and the conclusions he has reached about the incident.

The letter acknowledged that the incident, multiple investigations and political fallout have created “a trying, difficult and emotional time” for those associated with the high school.

But Whetzel and Koontz rejected criticisms that school system officials have overreacted and exaggerated the seriousness of student conduct on the bus. Whetzel and Koontz said they are legally prohibited from giving the public details about the investigations and related disciplinary actions taken against students and adults.

The board officials wrote: “Decisions will continue to be made in an effort to help our schools do what is right and fair – to ensure that not only has this misconduct ended, but that its effects are remedied and it does not happen again. Statements suggesting this behavior is horseplay, roughhousing and even accepted imply that additional steps and decisions are needed to educate and ensure that this is behind us.”

The words “and it does not happen again” were underlined.

Whetzel and Koontz added that their letter “has been informed by the advice and full participation of all members of our School Board.”

Raley said he appreciated the show of support.

“The text of the letter is certainly very humbling, and I’m quite thankful for their public and visible support,” Raley said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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