Sunday, April 22, 2018
Education

Cheerleader coach in Brandon cleared after allegations of bullying

BRANDON — Everyone agrees that one day last fall, coach Nancy Reagor tried to make a point about how cheerleaders look in yoga pants. "The boys are not looking at your eyes," she told girls who wore the tight garments for spirit week.

What she said next is a point of debate. Some said she remarked, "You look like sluts." Reagor, 54, denies it. And most students and parents back her up.

From there, the case of the Brandon High School cheer squad has taken on larger dimensions, spawning investigations that reached the highest levels of the Hillsborough County School District and raising questions about the threshold when it comes to allegations of sexual harassment.

Reagor, a first-year coach and reading teacher, was cleared. But, along the way, investigators conducted some 40 interviews. A deputy superintendent and a School Board member got involved. Roughly half the varsity squad quit. Some parents called for Reagor to be disciplined or fired, although their numbers dwindled over the school year.

There were allegations of bullying and harassment, but none held up under scrutiny. There's a matter of vulgar language. Reagor admits she swore. But at the girls? Never. It was more along the lines of "Get your head out of your a--." Or, "Are you f------ kidding me?"

Girls swore too. So did mothers, at least one in particular.

Reagor did not speak with the Tampa Bay Times. Her attorney said the district prohibited her from commenting until recently. Principal Carl Green declined to comment, as did most parents. The Times relied on the district's investigative reports for most information in this article.

But as a third investigation wrapped up, Diana Sevigne stated her case at the April 29 School Board meeting.

"She has bullied our girls," Sevigne, the mother of two girls who cheer, said of Reagor. "We were told that we were not going to be heard and that she was going to do whatever she wanted to do."

• • •

According to a 2011 agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, the district must document all investigations of sexual harassment, which is prohibited by federal law under Title IX. Principals serve as the schools' Title IX compliance officers.

Parents concerned about the profanity, the yoga pants incident and other issues met with Green and assistant principal Paul Woods late in the year. Despite the sexual nature of Reagor's remarks, no Title IX case was initiated.

According to district spokesman Stephen Hegarty, "neither the initial investigation, nor the more lengthy investigation that followed turned up any signs of sexual harassment."

Of 10 students interviewed at Brandon, one recalled Reagor saying, "you look like sluts." Others said she was strict and that some girls resented her rules.

Woods and Green counseled Reagor about the profanity. Later, according to the report, Reagor said she was asked to attend anger management and coaching classes.

The parents, not satisfied, continued up the chain to area director Larry Sykes. He now wishes more cheerleaders had been interviewed in the beginning. He referred the matter to the Office of Professional Standards.

The staff there contacted more students and parents. Some would not talk. Others praised Reagor. A mother said unless the matter involved crime or injury, she did not want her daughter involved "because she intends on her daughter cheering again next year." Later the mother supported the coach.

By the time the inquiry ended in March, a group of cheerleaders and parents had met with board member April Griffin. Professional standards opened another investigation, consulting with deputy superintendent Jeff Eakins and human resources chief Stephanie Woodford.

Griffin said three girls described the yoga pants incident as follows: Reagor had the girls stand, turn around and lift their shirts waist-high. They told Griffin that Reagor said, "you look like sluts."

But in the third investigation, which cited 21 students, accounts varied widely. Three heard the word "sluts." Two weren't sure. Others were not asked, were not in the locker room, or were but insisted Reagor said no such thing.

A student said Reagor humiliated girls by going to their class to check on their grades. Reagor said she checked on the grades but did not embarrass them.

There were allegations Green talked of disbanding the cheer program if parents kept complaining, and questioned their parenting. Sevigne said Reagor told her daughter she'd sue the family if they kept maligning her.

Reagor told the squad if things didn't calm down, they might lose her as a coach. Her critics said the remark was insensitive, as they lost their last coach to cancer. Reagor said, "I never mentioned Heather Hall in any other way than in great respect."

• • •

In district interviews, parents and school officials said Sevigne has a history of conflict with the school and with the last coach. They said she got angry after Reagor picked one daughter for a competitive squad and not the other. Sevigne said that's not the issue, that because of the whole mess neither joined the squad.

Some parents said Sevigne had a vendetta against Reagor, that Reagor cleaned up her language as instructed, and that most simply wanted to move on.

There was also a night when the girls misbehaved and Reagor said they would not cheer at the final football game.

Sevigne called Reagor "a b----."

At the board meeting Griffin said the students may not have always acted appropriately. "The parents may or may not have," she said. "But we can only have control over our employees."

Professional standards manager Linda Kipley concluded school leaders should have documented their verbal reprimand of Reagor for vulgar language. But she found no need for more action as the other allegations were unfounded.

While Sevigne was the only parent to speak publicly, the report shows others were on her side at first. At the board meeting, Griffin read an email by one who said there were at least a dozen. She felt the outcome might have been different had there been a more thorough investigation at the school.

"Many parents, me being one of them, just got discouraged and gave up trying to see change," the letter said.

"We were not taken seriously."

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