This from the Courier-Journal:
Pleasure Ridge Park principal David Johnson should be removed immediately from his post until a thorough investigation of his stewardship of the school -- including the death of football player Max Gilpin -- is initiated and completed. He should be returned to that position only if such an inquiry demonstrates he is qualified to lead the school.
In light of Mr. Johnson's sworn deposition in a civil case brought by Gilpin's parents against six PRP coaches, we have grave doubts about his suitability to be a principal.
Mr. Johnson's own testimony reveals an alarming laxness in the standards he brought to bear on his staff in compiling information that was essential in understanding why Gilpin collapsed during football practice last August and died, three days later, after being taken off life support.
The principal did not keep records. The principal did not take notes. The principal did not do formal interviews of those present when Gilpin collapsed or those who complained about the coaches' behavior. He was dismissive of e-mail and notes he received from people in the community, and he deleted e-mail protests. The principal did refer repeatedly to the "chain of command," none of which seemed to have anything to do with him.
The casual nature of Mr. Johnson's alleged inquiry into what might have led to a teen-ager's death -- as well as the principal's outrageous statement to a PRP resident that he hired head Coach Jason Stinson for his "strong Christian beliefs" (how is that pertinent in a public school?) -- should offend the community that pays his salary and entrusts its children to his authority and care. It also creates justified wonder about what else may be happening at PRP that he -- and we -- don't know about. We should not have to wonder.
Whatever happened to the idea that the public owns the schools - and that as school administrators, it is our job to provide a safe, open and responsive environment for the benefit of our students?
Instead the PRP case tells the story of a principal who sees his job as defending the school against all comers - right or wrong. Some may find such blind loyalty admirable. Too bad PRP students don't enjoy such protections.
Moreover, the symptoms appear to be endemic within the administration. Having perhaps attended the same PR school as UofL President James Ramsey, JCPS public information officer Lauren Roberts went into damage control. She wrote to Johnson,
"… I'm getting multiple media calls this a.m. about the kid collapsing the other night. rumor mill is going crazy. we've squelched that it was anything sinister … they all understand that all rules were followed and this kid was not being abused. Can you advise as to his condition?"
Squenched? "This kid?"
But was there anything sinister? How can the district be sure if the man supposedly "investigating" is "very protective of everything about PRP?"
Johnson was aware of an e-mail sent by a parent who was at an adjacent practice field on Aug. 20 and witnesses what happened. In the e-mail, Brian Bale said that the PRP players were not offered water breaks and that an unnamed coach said that the team would stop running as soon as a player quit the team.
"I heard him (a coach) verbally blister the kids when they asked for water,"
Bale wrote, comparing the practice to military training. "The whole thing was
appalling and made quite a few of us on the sidelines pretty angry."
Somebody should have looked into that. But instead, Johnson didn't want to hear bad news and deleted emails - somehow knowing they were "hate mail" - without the benefit of reading them.
Responsibility for this tragedy goes all the way to the top, including to Mr. Johnson, to the district's athletics director and to Superintendent Sheldon Berman.
It is time for Mr. Berman to step up, make public every fact that can be unearthed, take responsibility for how this has been handled and tell the community how he will change that.
The buck stops with him.