More than 100 Clinton High School students and athletes walked out of class in frustration Wednesday.
The movement was a peaceful protest following the Clinton Central School District Board of Education’s decision Tuesday night to place longtime coach Norman Deep Jr. on paid administrative leave as indoor track coach. The resolution was added to the meeting agenda following an executive session that was held with board members at 5:30 p.m. before the main meeting two hours later.
Deep has coached Clinton’s successful cross-country and track and field teams since the mid-1990s. Deep, a co-coordinator at the Section III level, leads the school’s indoor track team during the winter season. He was chosen as New York State Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Association last year.
Deep said Wednesday that he couldn’t comment on the situation.
“I will advocate for coach Deep on any day,” said Clinton senior Claire Barone, who was one of the main walkout organizers after suddenly learning of the situation involving Deep on Tuesday night. “My mom saw something on Facebook (Tuesday). I literally ran from my house to the meeting. I talked to the board members (after missing the meeting) and expressed my concerns.”
As of Wednesday evening, an exact reason remained unclear why Deep was placed on paid administrative leave. Some parents and students said they are unhappy about a lack of communication and transparency from officials regarding the situation.
Clinton superintendent Dr. Steve Grimm said late Wednesday that he couldn’t discuss specifics of the situation because it was a personnel decision. He said there would be more time taken to gather information.
Athletic director Mike King and school principal Dr. Matthew Lee — both present at the student walkout Wednesday – declined to comment when approached Wednesday.
Grimm pointed to the meeting minutes on the district’s website, which state “the District has evaluated certain relevant circumstances known to date, and believes that it is in the District’s and student athletes’ best interests to authorize another individual to coach the Indoor Track Team until further notice.”
Athletes said another coach wasn’t appointed Wednesday and they weren’t allowed to practice. That’s frustrating, they said, as some are scheduled to participate in a meet this weekend.
“Numerous times when a coach cannot make a practice, they send a different coach out there to conduct practice,” said senior Jenna Deep, an indoor track and field athlete who is also Norman Deep Jr.’s daughter. “I think that’s blatantly disrespectful to our team and program.”
Grimm said Wednesday night there would be a substitute coach in place Thursday for the team to practice. He said officials had to scramble Wednesday because two assistant indoor track coaches also decided to step away from their positions. He assumes that decision was because of the move involving Deep Jr. Grimm didn’t have information related to a meet this weekend.
The situation putting Deep’s status as indoor track coach on hold doesn’t affect his teaching position, Grimm confirmed. Deep taught his social studies classes Wednesday at the school, students said.
That makes for an interesting juxtaposition as Deep “is not to have any contacts or communications with current and/or former District student athletes concerning District athletic programs,” according to the meeting minutes.
“Further, while on paid administrative leave Norman Deep is not permitted to attend any Indoor Track program activities or events, including practices, although he may attend track meets in which the District participates, as a spectator, with the prior written permission of the Superintendent. Mr. Deep shall fully cooperate with any inquiries made of him by the District relative to the Indoor Track Team and related matters.”
Barone said there was a meeting with King and Lee on Wednesday regarding the situation. Senior athlete Joey DeTraglia – who referred to Deep as a good coach — said a lot of questions were left unanswered in the meeting.
“They just said they were giving us ways to make our voice heard by writing (letters),” said Barone, a Clinton pole vault and high jump participant for four years. “I was kind of bothered by that because you can’t see emotion through a paper. I said, ‘I want to be at the board meeting. I want to have a voice.’”
Barone, Jenna Deep and DeTraglia were among about 125 other students Wednesday who walked laps around the track located near Elm Street on school grounds when the demonstration started at 1:23 p.m. The time was selected as an homage to Deep, who chooses similar atypical start times for activities, Barone said. The number of students – who chanted in favor of Deep during the walkout — slowly dwindled to a smaller group and the walkout finished after about an hour, coinciding with the end of the school day.
DeTraglia, who said he’s known the coach for seven years, said the walkout was a “reflection of how the entire student body feels about him.”
“Generally, (officials are) being unfair toward him,” DeTraglia said. “They didn’t tell him that this was going to be brought up at the board meeting. They deliberately didn’t tell him. … To me, that says something about how the school board chose to handle this. It is partially a fault on them. I don’t think enough students were heard in the matter.”
A petition was also started on change.org Wednesday afternoon with the goal of reinstating Deep to his position. It had more than 700 signatures as of 10 p.m. Wednesday.
This is not the first time there has been an issue involving Deep and the district. In 2006, the sides resolved a $1.5 million lawsuit in which Deep said he had been asked not to continue as head football coach during that school year because of his outspoken views on the district budget, according to Observer-Dispatch archives. He coached the football team for one more season in 2006.
Ben Birnell is a sports reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. Email Ben Birnell at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Observer-Dispatch: Clinton coach Norman Deep Jr. placed on leave, students walk out