Editorial: SMUS brews controversy by avoiding spotlight

St. Michaels should lead discussions about bullying by talking publicly about the notable steps it's taken as a result of abuse allegations

St. Michaels University School added another feather in its cap of athletic success by winning the B.C. high school basketball boys AA Championship in Langley last Saturday.

But the resulting Blue Jags pride was tempered by a report detailing allegations of bullying and verbal abuse by SMUS coaches dating back to 2011 and released earlier in the day by the Toronto Star and CTV’s W5 investigative program.

One of the more curious facets of this story at the local levael is that the allegations – and the exhaustive follow-up investigations by the Ombudsman of B.C. Independent Schools, an independent investigator and the Teacher Regulation Branch – were not picked up by this paper and other media outlets in town. How did three years of what must have been the gossip of the school escape public scrutiny until now?

SMUS Head of School Bob Snowden told parents in a March 16 letter that he chose not to respond to the latest media inquiries because they considered the matter closed and the allegations discredited.

But by staying out of the spotlight, school administrators are potentially stoking a fire. The allegations by several former student athletes, even if completely fabricated, have launched a debate about two sets of rules for teachers: one that applies in a classroom, and another that applies on the court, pitch or rink. Are coaches free to act in ways and make statements that would otherwise warrant disciplinary action in a classroom setting?

SMUS should be at the forefront of this discussion by talking about the notable steps administrators have taken as a result of the allegations: instituting a code of conduct for coaches, parents and students; bringing in a “coaches’ coach;” and reviewing the school’s athletics program.

These positive steps should be championed openly to assist administrators at other schools and help other coaches clearly identify when strong motivation could cross the line into bullying and verbal abuse.

Snowden completes his letter to parents by stating “our priority always is and always will be to create an environment that fulfills the promise of our students.”

The promise of at least several students, it seems, has been to call into question the school’s reputation in the country’s largest daily newspaper.

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