The cheering section for both sides on a recommended change to the city school’s conflict of interest policy turned out Monday for the Johnson City Schools Board of Education meeting, but this time, those in opposition prevailed.
The proposed policy change, which the Johnson City Board of Education unanimously approved on first reading last month, would have barred the district’s employees from coaching for any school system within a 50-mile radius of the city or for any system against whom the district’s students compete, whether as volunteers or for pay.
District Supervisor Richard Bales said the policy was initially proposed after members of the coaching staff voiced concerns that outside districts were actively recruiting student athletes from Johnson City, a violation of Tennessee Secondary School Athletics Association rules.
Some of the speakers who took to the podium Monday referenced David Crockett basketball coach John Good, who served as an assistant coach at Science Hill High School until last year and was followed to the county school by a few Hilltoppers.
“I feel like a lot of the recruitment stuff was shot at me, because I was one of the first ones who took my son out of Science Hill to go to Crockett,” Felicia Coleman, mother of student Brendan Coleman, said. “I make those decisions in my children’s lives. I can do what I want to with my children. Nobody here or anywhere can tell me what I can do with my kid.”
Damon Johnson, a former Science Hill basketball standout, and employee of the city district and an assistant coach under Good, said Johnson City Schools knew he coached for Crockett when he was hired.
“I believe that I should be able to help any kid in Washington County,” Johnson said. “I’m not doing anything wrong.
“I was told that if this policy goes through I would be fired if I didn’t decide to stop coaching,” he added. “I’m in the process of planning a wedding, I’m in the process of bettering my life in a lot of different ways, and this has put a lot of pressure on me and my fiance money-wise.”
Melissa Mains, a 7th grade science teacher at Liberty Bell Middle School, is also a volunteer assistant coach for the Daniel Boone High School girls basketball team alongside her husband, Travis.
The couple’s children attend county schools, a practice she said is common among the city’s teaching staff.
“The more I sought clarification about this policy, the more it seemed to me that I was being asked to make a choice between my family and my job,” she said. “It’s a heartbreaking choice between the children that I love and the family that I love.”
But not all of the speakers Monday were against the proposed policy.
Science Hill head football coach Stacy Carter said competition among coaches for teaching jobs is already fierce, and allowing teachers to hold outside coaching jobs robs the athletics staff of deserved positions.
“Currently, we have a problem finding our coaches teaching positions,” he said. “When some of these jobs are held by those who coach at competing schools, it compounds the problem.”
Carter continued that allowing staff to hold dual allegiances is detrimental to the programs of both competing schools.
“Sports are competitive, period,” he said. “There is no way in my mind that a person could teach in one system and coach in another without being biased. The nature of coaching is to win. How can one have the best interest of our schools in mind when later in the day they will be directly competing with the student they teach?”
After more than an hour of public comments, the school board voted to remove the lines added to the policy for approval, but a second vote encouraged Superintendent Bales to continue to explore options for addressing athletic recruitment.
“We probably have our HR department and legal do some research, and then we’ll probably involve the standing athletic committee,” Bales said. “We’ll probably start there and see what we come up with and who else we’ll need to involve after that.”
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