There has been almost no public comment from officials or school board members in District 428 about the racial bullying incident on a district bus in January.
What they have said with their discipline speaks volumes, however. The hope is that they will also take steps to ensure that the circumstances that allowed this to happen are not repeated in the future.
In January, a DeKalb High School student was attacked by a teammate with a belt and taunted with racial slurs while riding on a bus returning from a wrestling meet.
In response to the incident, the school board expelled a student and suspended others. The teacher who was on the bus, Lance Gackowski, was relieved of his duties as a wrestling and tennis coach, although he remains a teacher in the district.
No school board members have publicly retreated from their action. Given what transpired, it’s not surprising.
An inclusive and harmonious community can have no tolerance for bullying and racism.
The facts presented to board members led them to their decision; part of what school board members are elected to do is make these kind of decisions behind closed doors and not talk about them afterward for the sake of all involved.
School board President Tom Matya has said the district is reviewing policies for coaches and students, and hopefully the district will consider a mandate on a supervisor-to-student ratio for activities, as students and parents have said that Gackowski was in charge of monitoring about 50 students at the time the incident occurred.
That’s an insufficient ratio of students to teachers. It creates an ideal environment for all manner of misbehavior. Those who have spoken in support of Gackowski are right – it’s not fair to expect one teacher to be aware of everything that’s happening on a bus full of students.
But no matter what the supporters of the coach say, unless they investigated the matter themselves, they probably are not privy to all the facts, as we are not.
The only people who know precisely what happened are likely the students who were immediately involved or watching from close by.
These types of stories can be difficult to report because it is standard practice for school officials and board members not to discuss issues involving student discipline or employees, a practice that is entirely proper.
When the public takes issue with a school board decision surrounding such matters, they are under no such restrictions. Their tendency is to talk about the matter in a way that places the person for whom they are advocating in the most favorable light.
In this case, those calling for coach Gackowski to be reinstated said that there was no way he could have had any idea what was going on, and that the incident was a “joke that went too far.”
Without knowing what specifics were presented to school board members before they made their decisions, it is clear that they found the behavior involved was no joke.
Gackowski has coached in the district for 25 years and appears well-liked by students and athletes past and present. Even the person who was the victim in this scenario signed a petition asking for his reinstatement. If there is a way he can coach again in the future, it would make many people happy.
However, without knowing all the facts of what happened, we must defer to the school board.