Investigation concludes Rome School Board VP violated district codes of conduct
ROME — An investigation by the Rome City School District’s legal firm has found that Board of Education Vice President Tanya Davis, violated the district’s codes of conduct during an incident …
Investigation concludes Rome School Board VP violated district codes of conduct
ROME — An investigation by the Rome City School District’s legal firm has found that Board of Education Vice President Tanya Davis, violated the district’s codes of conduct during an incident at a varsity boys basketball game. However, the district cannot remove Davis for the incident at the Rome Free Academy gymnasium on Tuesday, Jan. 25, according to the district counsel’s report.
The formal investigation followed accusations that Davis had shouted at the RFA coaches from the stands during that event to express her disagreement with how they were handling a situation involving a team member in real time.
Davis had also been accused of shouting directly at the student athlete with whom the coaches were actively engaging, allegedly calling the student a derogatory name.
In a statement released by John Nash, president of the board, he confirmed that the Law Firm of Ferrara Fiorenza PC, the district’s official counsel, reported its conclusions to the board Thursday, March 24, and Friday, March 25. Nash offered no explanation as to why the investigators provided their final report over the course of two days or for the delay in releasing a public statement.
In its statement, the board said decision to initiate the investigation was based upon letters received from the parent/guardian of the student on his behalf, as well as from the NAACP, on behalf of community members who had expressed concerns about the board’s initial handling of the matter. Both letters of complaint were addressed to both Superintendent Peter C. Blake and Nash.
The board added that while the investigation found Davis violated the parent athletic code of conduct, “the evidence gathered with respect to the allegation that Board member, Tanya Davis, called a player on the RFA boys’ varsity basketball team a derogatory name was inconclusive.” Davis has denied the allegations, including that she shouted at the student and called him a derogatory name. Attempts to reach Davis for comment regarding the investigation’s findings were unsuccessful.
In the statement, the board advances that attorneys engaged to investigate a DASA Act (Dignity for All Students Act) violation in connection with the incident had interviewed “individuals in attendance that night, as well as district administrators and coaches.” Michael Stamboly, the district’s athletic director, was in attendance and, no later than the next day, reported the incident to Blake, and included four separate witness accounts confirmed not to contain any conflicting information. The varsity basketball coaches were allegedly the target of what would have been inappropriate remarks shouted at them by Davis, where district policy prohibits parents or any spectator from shouting anything but clearly positive, encouraging comments to players and coaches from the stands. The district’s code of conduct governing Davis (where Davis’s son is a member of the RFA varsity boys basketball team) requires parents to express concerns to coaches in a private setting and no sooner than 24 hours after an issue or incident with which they are concerned takes place.
While that statement implies that receiving the letters of complaint were the first that the board had heard of the incident and that it allegedly involved a violation of the dignity of a student on school grounds, Nash was actually advised of the incident in full detail by Blake shortly after the night of January 25 and before Nash then convened an executive session of the Board of Education prior to its regular meeting on January 27, less than 48 hours later. He was made aware that the report came directly from Stamboly and included the four independent and consistent accounts, as well as the fact that they involved allegations that Davis had engaged in yelling at a student and calling the name. Nash initially reported that the Board felt it had “enough conflicting information” to decide no further investigation was called for, that any action taken by the Board would be internal and there would be no public statement regarding it.
Nash agreed that Blake’s characterization of the report from Stamboly, including the four consistent accounts, was accurate and that the other account considered by the Board during that executive session was given by Davis herself, which effectively suggested that he found an account denying all or some of the allegations offered by the accused member herself to be “enough conflicting information” to disregard the account of the district’s athletic director, who was again in attendance at the event, and the four independent accounts Stamboly had gathered before sharing his report with Blake, who then shared it with the full Board.
Nash later walked back his assurance that Davis had been the only additional account the Board had considered during that meeting, stating that he had spoken to another witness and considered her account of the events, as well. He stated that, because that testimony was received by phone and not in person, he had forgotten about it.
That second witness, also a parent of a varsity team member, confirmed that she had received a call from Nash asking if she would relay her account of the events that night, as she had been sitting with Davis at the game. Nash did not share who reported to him the name of the witness, that she was in attendance and where she was sitting, or how he came to have her cell phone number such that he was able to phone her during the meeting. What he did confirm was that neither he or any Board member to his knowledge, had sought to gather an account from the student athlete himself or the varsity basketball coaches, collectively the targets of the alleged verbal assault at that time or at any time up to the decision to initiate a formal investigation into the incident.
Amid growing public sentiment, a petition was launched on Change.org entitled “Remove Tanya Davis from the School Board,” which now boasts 782 signatures calling for either Davis’s resignation or removal. Further to the petitions, various members of the community have attended at least three regular Board of Education meetings to make public comments denouncing the behavior and demanding that Davis either resign or be removed.
In the board’s statement, they accurately clarify that Rome’s Board of Education (nor, any school board in the State of New York )has no authority to seek to remove a duly elected or appointed member unless the cause for such action involves behavior in violation of guidelines governing Board of Education members while actively performing their duties. Because the incident involving Davis did not take place during a formal meeting or event where she was acting as an officer, member and/or committee chair, that consequence is not among those available to the board, should they choose to impose one.
“While the Board has heard requests from community members for Ms. Davis’ removal from the Board and/or her position as Vice President,” reads the Board’s statement, “the Board lacks legal authority to remove Ms. Davis for the conduct established.”
Nash has confirmed that he has been advised that formal censure is also not a recourse for the same reason. He did not rule out the stripping of committee chair roles, but would need to seek further guidance to confirm whether to do so was in the Board’s purview.
While the authority of the Board with regard to the specific incident is accurately limited in those regards, the district holds a separate and different purview and authority over Davis’s alleged violations in her role that evening as both a parent and a spectator. Blake, as superintendent, is not empowered to engage in affairs that concern the Board or its members, but he has confirmed that no member is entitled to the expectation of exemption from being governed by district guidelines or to receive special or different treatment in response to an alleged violation of same. Blake thus agreed that he absolutely does have purview and authority over Davis as a parent and spectator at the RFA event. He has confirmed that the full report resulting from the investigation has now been provided to him and he will consider it on behalf of the district, where Nash must consider it on behalf of the Board.
On February 2, just over a week after the January 25 incident was reported to have occurred, Blake stated, “If there were a formal complaint filed against any individual adult or student in attendance of an athletic event or district activity, an investigation would have to ensue and at worst, if determined to be true, the individual would be banned from district property/events for a period of time.”
This would be a customary consequence for any member of the district community found to have violated district guidelines in a same or similar manner.
It is apt to note that nowhere in district guidelines made available to students, staff or families prior to the January 25 incident does it set forth the process by which a person concerned about a violation of district codes or guidelines should express those concerns in order for them to be considered such a “formal complaint” that would compel the superintendent, on behalf of the district, to investigate the incident or issue in question.
The Board’s statement advanced that the investigators issuing their conclusions made the recommendation that Davis “receive additional training regarding the role of Board members in the community, even when not acting in an official capacity as a Board member.”
Nash has not responded yet to a question as to whether that was the only recommendation made by district counsel, or whether there may have been others that were not shared in the public statement.
The statement regarding the results of the investigation concludes to assure that “the Board will meet to discuss a course of action in light of the report we recently received concerning the matter.”
Nash has confirmed that all members have received the full report and that an executive session of the Board of Education will likely be convened prior to its next regular meeting, scheduled for Thursday, April 7, where he expects the conversation about next steps to begin.
Davis currently serves as an officer of the Board and as chair of two Board committees, including the Policy Committee, where she is overseeing the revision of the district policy manual, and the ad hoc committee on redistricting. Hers is one of four Board seats up for re-election on May 17. Davis has not publicly announced her intention with regard to whether or not she will seek re-election.
With regard to next steps to be taken by the district, Blake said, “The process is complete but the outcome is not complete.”
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