PUSD board confirms dismissal of high school pole vault coach

District cites 'harassing' text messages to student-athlete; coach defends self, joined by supporters

The termination of a popular high school pole vault coach amid allegations of inappropriate critical text messages to a student-athlete overshadowed what was expected to be an otherwise routine evening of business for the Pleasanton school board.

A dozen people, including coach Douglas Beck, parents and students, turned out for a special public hearing, held before the board's closed-session meeting Tuesday night, to protest Beck's dismissal on grounds of harassment -- a rare open hearing on a district personnel matter, conducted in public at Beck's request.

The board ultimately sided with district staff, upholding Beck’s release in a 4-1 vote, with Board President Valerie Arkin casting the sole dissenting vote.

“There’s much more than just talking about pole vault,” Trustee Mark Miller said of the text messages at the center of the dismissal. “There’s badmouthing of officials and all kinds of things that’s going on, and I want our coaches to be role models.”

Beck, who worked as a contracted coach for pole vault at Amador Valley and Foothill high schools, defended himself during the hearing, saying health concerns were at the heart of the issue with the student and the welfare of his athletes is tantamount.

“Their health and safety is the most important thing to me. I won’t sacrifice the health and safety of my vaulters for anything.” Beck said. “My goal for them has always been for as many of them as possible to be happy with their experience and their achievements, and I really wish to continue to do that.”

Beck was dismissed from his coaching position early last month after a female student that he had been coaching on a track-and-field team filed a complaint against him.

According to Julio Hernandez, district assistant superintendent of human resources, Beck sent a number of “unprofessional, inappropriate, threatening, disruptive, disparaging and harassing” text messages last year to the girl about her taking private vaulting lessons from another coach.

The text messages were not shared publicly at the meeting but were described as “centered on attacking and disparaging other pole vault coaches, threatening the complainant to stop attending lessons with other coaches” and other behavior deemed “inappropriate.” None of the comments were sexual or violent in nature, according to the district.

Hernandez said “the times of day and the number of texts that disrupted the complainant's school time” were also problematic. Beck sent texts early in the morning before school and sometimes up to 10 p.m.

They also took issue with Beck coaching rival students from Washington High School in Fremont on Pleasanton Unified School District property.

A group of parents, students and colleagues attended the board meeting to advocate on Beck’s behalf, several weeks after circulating a support petition signed by more than 200 people.

They called Beck a “needle in a haystack” among pole vault coaches, and lauded his reputation for prioritizing safety and technique above all else. They also disagreed with the district’s characterization of Beck’s behavior and said the text messages didn’t rise to the level of harassment.

Jonah James, a senior pole vaulter at Amador, said Beck “has helped me improve more than any other coach” and that the complainant has a history of “undermining” Beck’s coaching. James worries that he won’t qualify for a collegiate team without Beck’s help.

“It jeopardizes every other vaulter’s future,” James said. “I’m currently in position for college recruitment and scholarships are based on my coach’s immediate reinstatement. Coach Beck knows my vaulting technique better than anyone else.”

The student who filed the complaint did not speak to the board Tuesday night.

According to Beck, he blocked the student from texting him just before Christmas and said the student filed a complaint to retaliate against him because he refused to let her vault in order to prevent any injuries. He said he became concerned that her technique was declining due to inadequate private training with another coach over the past year, and there was another issue with the student asking Beck to coach a friend of hers.

“The whole reason for her complaint was the fact that she wanted me to coach her friend,” Beck told the Weekly after the board voted to release him. “Most of the texts were about that. I just didn’t want to have her shin splints hurt so bad. It was a health issue.”

For their part, Miller and other trustees called the text messages sent by Beck “really inappropriate for an adult.”

But Arkin questioned whether the same discussion would have been controversial held face-to-face.

“I think if we put this in the frame of if this were a conversation in person, would we find it inappropriate, having a conversation in person about injuries and things like that?” Arkin said. “I’m sorry, I have a hard time with this one saying it’s inappropriate.”

Miller disagreed, saying he couldn’t “imagine my son’s music instructor having those levels of conversation with him” -- a comment soon before the board cast its 4-1 vote to dismiss Beck.

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25 people like this
Posted by Transcripts
a resident of Amador Estates
on Feb 27, 2019 at 7:01 am

Wait, so Board members and the Asst. Superintendant in charge of Human Resources can publicly discuss specific details of firing this employee, but claim “personnel privacy” when it comes to [other district employees] over other recent events?

The Board and District Office are a disgrace. They can’t even keep their excuses straight!

9 people like this
Posted by Vault Advocate
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Feb 27, 2019 at 7:43 am

Responding to "Transcripts" comment...This was supposed to be a "closed door" issue with the board, it was discussed openly at Douglas Beck's request at the prior to the meeting. President Arkin announced this would normally be discussed during the closed door session, however, due to Mr. Beck's request it was an open forum, therefore no issues with personnel privacy with regard to this specific issue.

19 people like this
Posted by Jedediah Baum
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2019 at 9:35 am

So a passionate coach made a mistake, probably took things too personally and made them too personal, then gets fired. A teacher at Foothill is fired for photos posted from college days. The coach has a large amount of community support, the teacher was popular with most students, but never mind. Meanwhile, rumors swirl about other disciplinary measures taken against teachers and coaches.

Of course, the current superintendent was most known for using online and computer-based programs to replace teachers at his most recent job, so at last the district's plan is clear: they just want to be sure that nobody wants to work for PUSD. At least no humans. They might make some kind of mistake, and of course are not suitable as employees.

Is that what the school board wants as well?

9 people like this
Posted by Student safety
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2019 at 10:11 am

I thank the PUSD board for firing this coach. He may be passionate but clearly the Board felt he crossed the line with his texting. Shame on these coaches who cross the line!! I wish Lauren Andrade's issue several years ago would have been public. Parents - know what the NCS rules are for your child's sport. AND if something a coach is doing feels wrong, investigate. Trust your gut!!

7 people like this
Posted by priorites
a resident of Donlon Elementary School
on Feb 27, 2019 at 10:45 am

a pole vault coach?
will remember that next time the school claims poor mouth.

12 people like this
Posted by Kate
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Feb 27, 2019 at 11:32 am

Kate is a registered user.

There would be many more coaches at AVHS fired if the admin monitored boundaries that are crossed on the daily with at least one program that I’m familiar with. Seems as though texting, social media posting and friendship outside of the sport with minor athletes policies need to be written into the independent contractor coaches contracts.

37 people like this
Posted by 25 year resident
a resident of Golden Eagle
on Feb 27, 2019 at 11:40 am

25 year resident is a registered user.

This whole thing is a travesty of justice. I was at the meeting last night and quite frankly Valerie Arkin is the only member worth voting back. The rest of you are puppets who don't have the courage to speak up and see a situation for what it is (not to mention don't want to look bad going against people you work with). Mark Miller -- I loved your stance on the calendar schedule a few years ago -- that's why I voted you in to begin with. I do think your stance last night was way out line. I read all the emails and nothing in there was inappropriate. You also questioned why Mr. Beck would allow those to be viewed. Thank goodness he did or there would have always been a lingering doubt in peoples' minds what exactly was 'inappropriate'. The answer we find out is NOTHING!! As soon as people throw out the words 'inappropriate' and 'fired', people automatically gravitate to some egregious behavior which everyone knows was not the case in this situation. Good job members for ruining a coach's/person's reputation and livelihood not to mention jeopardizing the pole vault program and athletic future of students at 3 high schools. Long story short, I've lived in Pleasanton for 25 years and never seen such a miscarriage of justice in all those years. All of you ... with the exception of Ms. Arkin, should be ashamed of yourselves.

18 people like this
Posted by Just a thought
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Feb 27, 2019 at 5:34 pm

Just a thought is a registered user.

I'm always a bit amazed in situations like this that folks are so confident they know every detail of a situation that they decide they should form a strong opinion one way or the other. This is happening more and more in the public sphere.

Since most of the comments here are “pro-coach”, let me throw out some “pro-district” thoughts that you should consider as balance…

Do you really feel like you are privy to all the facts and evidence on this matter? Even if you were in the closed-door meeting, the complaining student was not, so was there anybody there to give a complete recount of her total experience? Or is all you know what the coach has said?

Do you really think an HR director would use words like "threatening" and "disparaging" without just cause? That would probably be slanderous and certainly would be dumb.

They "fired" the coach almost immediately. In today's litigious age, do you think the district would have opened themselves to a lawsuit if there was even a shadow of doubt in their mind? This kind of thing generally only happens in "smoking gun" cases these days.

Folks who have said they've seen the texts, if the coach had actually written some heinous (or just really stupid) stuff, do you think he would have shown you those as well?

The complaining student and her family must have known this coach was well liked by a lot of folks. Do you really think they would bring the sort of negative attention I'm sure they are receiving now down on themselves without first exhausting other options and unless the situation was serious?

And so forth and so on.

I don’t have all the facts either. However, there is enough here that people should probably put down their pitchforks for a second, take a deep breath and look at it again a bit more objectively before deciding their is sufficient actionable information available.

7 people like this
Posted by Vault Advocate
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Feb 27, 2019 at 5:58 pm

Vault Advocate is a registered user.

"Just a thought"...Thank you for your wise and profound words. Instilling more than a bit of common sense into the situation was sorely needed. Each of your questions were foremost in my mind and each was squarely on the mark.

This coach was in a position of power over a young woman. If he was in anyway intimidating, harassing or inappropriately overbearing, we owe it to our young athletes to protect them from that which this particular adult could not seem to see was maliciously harming her.

10 people like this
Posted by Peaceful Spectactor
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Feb 27, 2019 at 6:16 pm

Peaceful Spectactor is a registered user.

I was present for the entire board meeting last night. What was supposed to be a closed door session, became public when Mr. Beck chose to make it so. I have come to find out that is an incredibly rare scenario. And perhaps not an exceptionally bright choice. However, I have read all the comments above and they all refer to "reading the texts" or "emails". I can say, NO packet was handed out generally or specifically, so I have to wonder, how anyone could assume they have the "Whole" story. They simply have what individuals have personally shared. So -Just a Thought - I do believe you have hit the nail on the head when asking is it possible that Mr. Beck has not shared what may have put him in a fire-able position. Furthermore, having witnessed all the testimony in the "closed session" that was open, followed by the district charges being read and the open discussion by the board, it was clear that those giving testimony were completely uninformed as to what the actual charges were. This was not a simple safety issue. This was about bullying, intimidation, reprisals and harassement. This goes beyond freedom of speech, this is a grown man, who should have known better, text policy or none, to know he was stepping over a line. Under contract or not, he repeatedly identified himself as the coach and she the student athlete.
This should give the pitch fork carrying folks concern.

17 people like this
Posted by concerned citizen/dad
a resident of Foothill High School
on Feb 27, 2019 at 7:08 pm

concerned citizen/dad is a registered user.

I was also there last night as a concerned dad at first, then as a highly concerned citizen of pleasanton.

A few thoughts:

1) I don't think it was dumb, as suggested, that Coach Beck request a public hearing. It's alarmingly easy for organizations like PUSD to hide behind supposed legal issues and not be transparent.
2) If there is a "smoking gun", let PUSD show it. Coach Beck has been very transparent with the communication and I trust him more than most district folks. I believe he'd be all for letting all the information see the light of day.
3) I was not impressed, and actually, quite disturbed at the lack of character, integrity, understanding of contemporary communication methods, and judgment shown by the district, board (excepting Arkin), and superintendent Mr. Haglund. This should have been handled much differently. Very disappointing lack of leadership. I encourage all to vote and run for next round of school board to improve this. My take is that this is a CYA move, rather than being a strong opportunity to right a wrong. I believe all minds were made up before listening to public comment. And, principals, AD's, and head coaches were excluded (and seemingly instructed to silence themselves) from the decision making process. This is, based on my experience, a sign of very ineffective leadership. I'm very concerned at what I perceive to be a not strong organization in charge of my kids' education. Very shaken by the lack of strength and leadership shown.
4) I'm a dad who's exceedingly protective of my daughter. I've spent time with coach Beck while he's coached my daughter and others. I have zero concern with him coaching my daughter. In fact, I think she's missing a great opportunity thanks to this crazy process.
5) The rationale expressed by the HR guy who actually fired Coach Beck seemed quite "legalese" focused. I'm still not quite sure what the reason was. Even if it costs me money as a taxpayer, I sincerely hope Coach Beck gets strong legal representation to right this wrong.
6) Coach Beck was not an employee during these exchanges. How is that being so overlooked? He engaged based on his passion for helping.
7) I couldn't help, after this meeting, reflecting on Pleasanton's "community of character" slogan. For me, sorely lacking last night. Courage, not CYA.
8) Re the comment that Coach Beck may not have shared all the data. I say, let 'er fly. Dig in, find it all, I prefer to see all the data, not trust implicitly. Like Reagan said "Trust, but verify".

6 people like this
Posted by concerned citizen/dad
a resident of Foothill High School
on Feb 27, 2019 at 7:12 pm

concerned citizen/dad is a registered user.

Oh, and check out the TV30 recording of this to help inform your opinion.

19 people like this
Posted by Kate
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Feb 27, 2019 at 8:32 pm

Kate is a registered user.

To “Just a thought”...when I read your comment “Do you really think an HR director would use words like "threatening" and "disparaging" without just cause? That would probably be slanderous and certainly would be dumb” what came to mind is my question...would you ever think an official of a Blue Ribbon and highly ranked High School would change a students grade risking his/her profession? Lots of dumb stuff happening within PUSD lately. Things that make you to hmmmm

3 people like this
Posted by concerned citizen/dad
a resident of Foothill High School
on Mar 3, 2019 at 1:45 pm

concerned citizen/dad is a registered user.

Have been mulling this process for several days now. I've moved on from the coach, and am now focused on the process and how our school board and management is set up. Was asking around; a few folks I know on city council, parents, state representatives, etc. My understanding is that the School Board superintendent for Pleasanton does not report directly to anyone. During this process, I was hoping that the current occupant of this office would be a strong voice, express his opinions and stance, and give confidence in the process and decision. Even if I disagreed with it, I'd respect a strong voice. At the meeting, he was all but silent, only reading some saccharine statement on a few, little things going on in the district. What's the incentive to lead here? How is the superintendent accountable? This seems like a super-not-ok structure. I've become highly concerned with the position of superintendent and how its accountability is set up. Generally, you get the performance that you incentivize.

Like this comment
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Mar 3, 2019 at 7:54 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

The superintendent reports directly to the Board of Education composed of five members.

Like this comment
Posted by concerned citizen/dad
a resident of Foothill High School
on Mar 3, 2019 at 8:07 pm

concerned citizen/dad is a registered user.

Thank you Kathleen for that information. Is there a process for performance review? And, if so, is it public? I'd expect a periodic (quarterly at longest) review of performance and public view into that review. Thanks again for the helpful information.

Like this comment
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Mar 3, 2019 at 8:57 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

There is a formal annual review. That process is done in closed session. The superintendent’s goal setting for the new school year is public. His contract is public and any changes to it—usually cmpensation—are public. Here is a link to top management contracts: Web Link

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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