Mother accuses EHS head coach of verbal abuse against her son

Published 9:15 am Tuesday, January 6, 2015

NW0106 crop to mug Witten Reprimanded

The mother of a former Elizabethon High School student has filed a complaint with the school system claiming that head football coach Shawn Witten used obscene language and verbally attacked her son during a team practice last fall.
Debra Scalf recently presented a complaint to ECS administrators that said Witten verbally abused her 16-year-old son after an on-field incident at a junior varsity football game in Kingsport.
Scalf said her son accused Witten of using several obscenities when reprimanding him for being involved in an incident with a player from the opposing team. Scalf asked her son to write down what he remembered from the exchange.
The conversation, according to her son’s written statement, included several obscenities.
Scalf said she presented her concerns, along with copies of her son’s written account of the verbal exchange with his coach, to school administrators, central office staff and Elizabethton Board of Education members.
Scalf has since removed her son from EHS and has enrolled him in another school system, she said. While her son is no longer a member of the EHS football team, Scalf said she is speaking out to prevent this situation from happening to another student.
“We knew we couldn’t let our son stay,” Scalf said. “We couldn’t risk another attack. This is not about revenge. This is about exposure.”
Scalf said she spoke to EHS administrators and Witten before taking the complaint to the central office and the school board members. She said Witten denied the conversation happened as it her son described it.
The Elizabethton Star contacted Witten Monday, but he declined to give any comments, saying he preferred to let the system administrators handle any statements.
On Monday, interim superintendent Corey Gardenhour sent a letter to Scalf informing her that an investigation into the complaint “found no actions that rise to the level of harassment.”
In the letter, Gardenhour conceded that Witten used “inappropriate language” in the presence of Scalf’s son.
After receiving a copy of the letter, the Star contacted Gardenhour to ask about the investigation.
Gardenhour said system administrators spoke with Witten, the school’s athletic director and other coaches who were present at the game in question and found that their versions of the incident differed from that of Scalf’s son. No players were asked about the incident during the investigation, Gardenhour said.
Based on those conversations, Gardenhour determined that while Witten had used inappropriate language, it did not reach the level of harassment because it was a one-time occurrence.
“We did not find from the parents or the coach during the investigation that this was a continual concern,” Gardenhour said.
The verbal exchange took place while Witten was addressing a skirmish that happened on the field between the EHS player and a player from Kingsport, Gardenhour said.
“He wanted to make sure the students knew fighting on the field was inappropriate,” he said. “He may have used an inappropriate word at the time.”
He continued that Witten was trying to impress on the students the importance of safety and to act with sportsmanship at all times.
Scalf said her son was acting in self-defense after being attacked by the other player after a play in the game.
In his letter to Scalf, Gardenhour said Witten had been counseled by administrative staff about the “proper use of language when reprimanding high school students.”
“We expect Coach Witten to use better judgment in the future and will monitor his compliance with the directives he was given,” Gardenhour wrote.
Gardenhour echoed those remarks.
“Any time something like this happens, we will continue to monitor the situation,” he said.
Scalf said she plans to bring her concerns before the school board during the meeting Jan. 15. She said she submitted a request to be included in the agenda.
In the letter detailing the investigation’s findings, however, she was told her request to be listed on the agenda had been “declined” because it was “inconsistent with the procedures required by board policy.”
The letter told Scalf she can file an appeal with the board to determine whether the issue can be heard. Scalf said she still plans to attend the meeting.

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