The school board is considering changes to the district’s athletic coaches handbook to eliminate gray areas in its policies.
Those updates include topics of social media usage, physical and interpersonal contact between coaches and students.
The school board, which discussed the potential changes its Monday, March 2, meeting, plans to vote on them Monday, March 17.
District athletic director Joel Zimba presented the updates to the board, stating that some of the additions to the handbook were simply for the convenience of new coaches, while others are common sense rules that just needed to be spelled out.
“Some of this stuff is because of issues that arose and we had to solve, and others were kind of looking at the handbook myself and wondering if I was a new coach, would I understand the kind of stuff that goes into it,” he said.
The handbook’s rules apply to both paid and volunteer coaches in the district.
Zimba added sections to the guidebook that clarified overnight lodging policies, team events and a code of behavior and social media rules for coaches.
Other updates include WIAA rules for practices outside of the season, district conflict of interest rules and the academic probation policy, so coaches don’t have to search for it in a student athlete handbook.
Two of the most significant changes include updates to acceptable coach behavior on social media and in person.
According to the draft handbook, coaches would be required to maintain separate personal and professional social media accounts. They would be prohibited from contacting students through their personal accounts and must decline friend requests from students.
Other social media rules would include tightening the privacy on coaches personal social media accounts and forbidding the use of social media apps as a means of communicating team information with students.
“It is always better to be the slightly less tech-savvy coach than the coach embroiled in controversy,” the handbook draft read.
The draft handbook also defines the code of conduct for coaches, including regulations that prohibit them from being in the locker rooms while students are changing or showering, dating students or revealing personal information or bad habits to students.
It also defines acceptable physical contact as needed for skill development or required for safety reasons that occur in an open environment and is done with the student’s permission and understanding. Prohibited physical contact includes touching of any part of the body that may cause embarrassment, destroys a student’s trust or is intended to frighten or distress a student, the draft handbook states.
Additions to the overnight lodging section define the district’s policy that if two students are sharing a room, they must be of the same gender and that students and coaches cannot share a room under any circumstances.
Language added to the handbook also prohibits coaches from holding events that only certain players are invited to or holding any events at their homes that involve only students. Any team event held at a student or coach’s home must involve parents, the draft handbook stated.
Board member Kristina Navarro-Haffner asked whether the handbook could include language that discouraged coaches from demeaning or embarrassing students.
Navarro-Haffner said she wouldn’t want to discourage constructive criticism for students but wondered whether the handbook could specifically prohibit behavior that shames students.
“I wouldn’t say this has happened with our coaches, but I have seen, as a parent of an athlete, coaching behavior on other teams where it really gave me pause, the way they cut down a youth athlete in a way that went over the top that was beyond constructive,” she said. “I don’t think we want young people experiencing that kind of verbal abuse.”
One gray area left unresolved at Monday’s meeting was whether coaches are allowed to attend graduation parties held by students. In the draft handbook, the code of behavior prohibits coaches from attending parties or gatherings that are outside of sports-related or district situations.
Board member Amy Almond pointed out that where parties for graduating seniors are concerned, coaches are often mentors for athletes, and they might be invited.
Navarro-Haffner added that graduation parties fall into that gray area for coaches and district staff because of younger students who might be in attendance.
“I think this highlights that this is a tricky situation,” board member Meredith Stier Christensen said. “You’re trying to juggle a role that’s not so clearly defined as an educator, but it’s not a friend, either.”