TWINSBURG — School district Athletic Director Brian Fantone, whose continued employment is in jeopardy for allegedly showing "poor judgement" as it relates to an unofficial volunteer volleyball coach, saw his related religious discrimination complaint filed Oct. 11 with the Board of Education against Superintendent Kathryn Powers go unsupported by the investigating law firm Oct. 26.
Fantone is currently on paid leave. The Board of Education was set to address his continued employment Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. at Twinsburg Government Center. Fantone, who also serves as coordinator for K-12 acitivites, received a pre-termination letter from the district Oct. 5, and was part of a 5-hour Loudermill hearing with the Board of Education (in executive session) Oct. 9 to offer his side of the case.
It was during this 5-hour hearing, the Oct. 26 report states, that Fantone alleged that Powers made comments that he believed discriminated against the employment of Bridget Doughty, whom Fantone initially sought to recommend as a junior varsity volleyball coach (the head varsity volleyball coach later said the hire was not necessary) and who was otherwise employed by the non-profit Christian youth organization Young Life.
According to the Oct. 26 report, Doughty had been assisting the high school volleyball program in unofficial capacities since the 2016-17 school year (beginning with a summer camp for volleyball); she was never approved by the Board of Education in any capacity. Besides Fantone, the report states that no other school administrators knew about Doughty until late September.
"Overall, we find no evidence of religious discrimination in violation of district policy," the 13-page Oct. 26 report from Cleveland-based Squire Patton Boggs concluded. "To the contrary, we believe district administrators, including Ms. Powers, acted in good faith to determine who an individual was who was spending time with students, and to address their concerns about that individual's credentials and a potential conflict of interest she may have in working for the district. There may have been a better way to express those concerns to Mr. Fantone and other district employees, but it appears clear from our review that there was no intent to discriminate … rather, the intent was to ensure district compliance with the First Amendment's Establishment clause and the board's administrative guidelines on that topic."
"Mr. Fantone’s general allegation is that Ms. Powers is using the charges outlined in the specifications for his termination as a pretext for firing him based on his failure to consider Ms. Doughty’s religious affiliation in determining her eligibility for a coaching position," the report states.
In a Nov. 1 statement published through his attorney Josh Schoenberger of Williams & Schoenberger, Fantone said he was grateful "for the overwhelming support from the students, coaches, teachers and community members during this process."
"I have remained silent about the matter of my employment out of respect for the board of education and this process," Fantone states. "Silence has been difficult as rumors swirl about my employment. I remain hopeful that I will be reinstated and therefore I do not intend to get into the details about this situation at this time. I would note that I have not been accused of any unethical, immoral or criminal acts or anything resembling such a claim. Further, during my time both as a teacher and as athletic director, I received exemplary performance reviews. I am grateful that since the board has become aware of this investigation, many of the allegations levied against me have been withdrawn and I appreciate the board's continued investigation into several remaining claims that I maintain are without merit."
Fantone, a lifelong Twinsburg resident and a graduate of Twinsburg High School, added that he and his wife "pray for civility and respect as this process continues," and that he hopes "that I will soon return to serving the only community I have ever known."
Neither Fantone nor his attorney returned calls seeking further comment.
The Twinsburg Bulletin has requested the draft specifications for Fantone’s termination but has not received them. What is noted in the Oct. 26 memorandum on the religious discrimination complaint is that Doughty’s employment with Young Life is not mentioned in the "draft specifications" in Fantone’s pre-termination correspondence.
The Oct. 26 report states that Fantone "failed to alert district administrators" that someone was volunteering with the team, "and failed to follow the board's procedures for having volunteers approved."
"Mr. Fantone's alleged failure to ensure" the volunteer "did have those credentials, and his alleged failure to put her before the Board for approval as a volunteer, are cited among the draft specifications for his termination," states the Oct. 26 report. In addition, the Oct. 26 report states that Fantone showed "poor judgement" and was "not transparent (and possibly deceptive)" in his allowing Doughty to associate with the teams.
Doughty’s missing credentials, according to the Oct. 26 report, included a lack of up-to-date First Aid and CPR certifications. While Fantone reportedly submitted some of Doughty’s credentials (concussion protocol, sudden cardiac arrest training) Sept. 29 to Powers’ office, Powers claims she did not receive even these initial qualifications until Oct. 16.
In addition, Fantone claims he did not believe Doughty needed to go through the proper channels, since she was assisting in a more informal basis.
Powers’ concerns of separation of church and state, according to the report, apparently arose Sept. 26 when Fantone told Powers that Doughty was affiliated with Young Life.
At the Loudermill hearing, Powers expressed to Fantone that he had shown "poor judgement in allowing a person without a background check and with unclear motivations access to district students," according to the report. She expressed concern about Doughty’s affiliation with Young Life, and "how that could impact the district and its students," the Oct. 26 report states.
One of the foundations of Fantone’s religious discrimination complaint was that Powers allegedly said at the Oct. 9 Loudermill hearing that Young Life is "an organization whose goal it is to infiltrate high schools and indoctrinate students in Christianity" and that Powers couldn’t "believe that Brian would let some with that background have access to our kids."
"Ms. Powers’ concerns regarding the possibility for conflicting purposes if Ms. Doughty was employed both by Young Life and the District were appropriate," the report states. "It is appropriate for Ms. Powers, as superintendent, to consider what, if any, measures need to be in place ... to ensure appropriate separation of District business from Young Life busisness."
The Oct. 26 memorandum is the first public document to detail any of the related matters into Fantone’s possible termination — either Powers’ investigation into Fantone’s alleged transgressions or Fantone’s associated religious discrimination complaint.
"The [religious discrimination] allegations arose in the context of another investigation the superintendent was conducting at the Board's direction," said Twinsburg Board of Education President Mark Curtis said. "In keeping with our commitment to be impartial, the Board asked an attorney who has not previously worked for the district to complete an independent investigation.
"The allegations were proven to be false and without merit," Curtis continued. "Specifically, it was found that the superintendent's actions were done with the intent of ensuring the district's compliance with the First Amendment and Board administrative guidelines. As such, these actions are in keeping … with her overall responsibilities as superintendent of this school district."
On Oct. 18, the Board voted 4-1 to place Fantone, the district's athletic director since 2015, on paid leave. Board member Kathy Turle-Waldron cast the dissenting vote and made a motion to bring Fantone back to work. Turle-Waldron’s motion was voted down 1-4.
Fantone’s contract was renewed in May, to run through July 31, 2020. He previously served as the R.B. Chamberlin Middle School athletic director and a social studies teacher there, and was selected as the new athletic director for the Twinsburg City School District July 1, 2015.
Bill Schumacher, the district’s former athletic director, is serving as interim athletic director, Powers said.