Boyle BOE hears public comment on coaching complaints
Published 8:17 am Saturday, July 8, 2023
BY FIONA MORGAN
Parents and students spoke on the topic of alleged abusive coaching by a Boyle County High School coach at its June meeting.
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Eric Guerrant, who is the father of former softball team member Peyton Guerrant, filed a grievance in April against Boyle softball coach Brian Deem, alleging his daughter was subjected to intimidating behavior, belittling, and humiliation by Deem. In response, many past and present coaches and colleagues were on hand to support the coach.
The original grievance states, “On April 18, 2023, my daughter and others observed members of the coaching staff of Boyle County Softball referring to another player as having a bitch face, being an Eeyore (donkey) and being humiliated and belittled in front of the team. My daughter has also been subject to intimidating behavior, belittling, and humiliation at the hands of Coach Brian Deem. This was addressed with the Athletic Director and Principal who assisted in taking action and there was improvement. Now we are witnessing the same behavior on a different kid and there are multiple past players that have experienced the same, multiple parents who have expressed similar observations, and parents and fans of opposing teams who have witnessed such.”
Eric Guerrant submitted an addendum to the grievance that cited policy violations. The addendum alleged that Deem violated policies 09.422 on Bullying / Hazing; 03.2621 Title IX Sexual Harassment; and 03.1321 Use of School Property. It also alleges that Peyton Guerrant was denied accommodations that were part of a 504 Student Accommodation plan she was part of.
Eric Guerrant wrote that a Title IX violation happened when Peyton Guerrant witnessed other members of coaching staff say another player had a “resting bitch face.”
“He failed to conform to Title IX requirements by participating in gender based sexual harassment and also failed to report such violations to appropriate school officials,” the addendum alleges.
The grievance alleges that Deem violated the section on bullying / hazing when he “referred to a player as Eeyore, a fictional donkey from the cartoon Winnie the Pooh and a figure known commonly to represent one who may be of depressed mood or demeanor;” “Accuses players with significant injuries of not being good teammates and not ‘trusting the process;’” and “Yells at and demeans players in the batting box while in the coaching box at third base.”
Lastly, the grievance alleges that Deem violated the Use of School Property policy, saying that he uses school property for his own profit to recruit kids to his Black Diamond Academy, which costs several hundred dollars per player.
The BOE heard many public comments at the June 8 meeting. Attendees were given 90 seconds to share with the board, and the comments as a whole took over 30 minutes of the meeting.
During his time to speak, Eric Guerrant requested to the board that they make a full investigation by someone outside the school system in order to get an unbiased opinion or result. He alleged that the internal investigation done by Superintendent Mike Lafavers in response to the grievance was not extensive enough.
He alleged that the scope of the investigation was limited, it was conducted by those with conflicts related to their relationship, the investigation did not include all members both past and present of recent teams, and that previous complaints and acts were not considered. Lafavers said he could not comment on any part of the investigation.
“The culture of this team is toxic, it is a culture of exclusivity,” Eric Guerrant said. “It is a culture that is perversely disguised and excused as tough coaching and preparation for the next level of life.”
The BOE meeting was packed with roughly 100 attendees, many of whom were wearing shirts that said “Team Deem.”
Alyssa Montgomery, who played soccer on Deem’s team and graduated in 2021, defended Deem and his coaching style.
“Coach Deem would never call a player, whether on his own or a different team, any kind of name,” Montgomery said. “I played with Deem for five years, and I’ve known him a total of nine. In those years he has never stepped out of line and called any player a name; it’s not his character.”
Montgomery also said she never saw Deem bully, mistreat or belittle any player, and that his coaching made her a better overall person.
“He always pushed me to be better every time I walked on the field, and there may have been a few times he drove me crazy, but I always knew he had my best interest at heart,” Montgomery said.
Other current players, former players, parents, and colleagues of Deem defended his character and actions. Most who supported Deem said that while his coaching style is tough, it drives many players to do better on the field and build their character.
Former softball team member Hailey Cannon, who graduated in 2021, played five years with Deem and said his coaching made her a better athlete and stronger person.
“In the years I played for Coach Deem, I never witnessed anyone else or myself ever be humiliated or talked down upon by anyone in his coaching staff,” Cannon said. “This raises my question of what is so different about the raising of young strong men and young strong women? I’m certain that we would not be standing here today having this discussion if these allegations were brought up by a young man.
“Society yearns for strong resilient women, and in order to shape them to be such, there must be someone along the way to be stern, frank, critique them when they need it, but also advise them, and Coach Deem happens to be this person in many young womens’ lives.”
Leigh White, mother of former Boyle County softball player Kayleigh White, spoke during public comment about how Deem’s coaching style negatively impacted her daughter. Leigh White said after her daughter’s mental health spiraled shortly after joining the team.
“My fun-loving, confident, happy daughter couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, had panic attacks; finally it all came out, it was [Deem] on the field in practice belittling girls,” the mother said.
Kayleigh White sought a transfer to a different school’s team, but had to go through an eligibility process and made a case to a judge. She is now a pitcher at East Jessamine, her mother said.
“I’ve got my child back after a year of getting her away from this man. I had to get her out of Boyle County through KHSAA; they approved it, they were on our side, saying that all this happened to her, I’ve got letters from psychologists, doctor’s notes saying that she went through all this,” the elder White said.
Peyton Guerrant had written a four-page letter to Lafavers before the meeting, part of which states, “The team environment is awful to be around, as coach Deem clearly has favorites and makes the others feel like they are worthless on the team. He tends to always point out the bad that we do instead of bringing us up. With coaching, you have to preach on the good the athlete does, along with the mistakes. But there is never any uplifting that comes out of his mouth, towards me at least.”
When contacted by the Advocate-Messenger, Deem declined to comment on the allegations.
Lafavers explained that the district’s grievance policy requires that the superintendent investigate grievance claims before they come to the board, and that the board is the last step of the grievance process.
Attorney Stephen Dexter was at the meeting to guide the board on legal policies regarding the grievance.
According to district policy, people may submit a written grievance to the superintendent, and the superintendent is required to give a written copy to each member of the board. The board acknowledged that they received the grievance from Lafavers.
Then they had to decide whether or not to hear the grievance. Dexter explained that the contents of this grievance are solely a personnel matter, and KRS states that all hiring and dismissal decisions are the responsibility of the superintendent.
“Further opinions of the Attorney General have clarified that there’s no authority for a board of education to hear charges against an employee, to make a decision, or to direct the superintendent on whether or not to investigate or dismiss an employee,” Dexter said. “Further, the Kentucky Education Reform Act specifically removed personnel decisions and duties from local boards of education and placed that responsibility solely in the hands of the superintendent.”
Based on these policies, the BOE passed a motion not to hear the grievance. Dexter said therefore the matter has been concluded based on the superintendent’s investigation.
Lafavers told the Advocate-Messenger that he could not share any findings based on his internal investigation. He said that as this is a personnel matter, he cannot share how it was dealt with, and can’t say what was or wasn’t done in response to the grievance.
“When you have a grievance, they point you in a direction in terms of an investigation, and when you do the investigation you find out whatever information the investigation provides for you,” Lafavers said. “You just can’t disclose publicly what you do find out.”
When asked how this matter will affect the softball program, Lafavers said, “The softball program has been successful, in terms of wins and losses, so we’re proud of what the girls have done on the field and what the coaches have done. We want all of our programs to strive to meet the needs of those involved, in all ways possible, not just in the winning and losing, but also in the development of our young athletes.”
Eric Guerrant gave a list of 23 people who have had negative experiences with Deem. He said more people have come forward but did not want to be named publicly. Those 23 signed a follow-up letter that Guerrant wrote to the BOE after the meeting. The letter explained that they will further pursue action against the coach.
Guerrant said several people plan to file a complaint with the Kentucky Department of Education’s professional standards board.