BY BUDDY NEVINS
Faced with tearful mothers complaining their daughters were being bullied in a cheerleading program, the School Board Wednesday took the unusual step of refusing to approve the hiring of the coach.
Although Coach Melissa Prochilo is already working at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, administrators hadn’t gotten around to asking for the required School Board hiring approval before Wednesday.
Board members not only blocked Prochilo’s hiring, but they ordered Superintendent Robert Runcie to investigate the program. They will make a final determination about Prochilo’s fate at a future meeting.
The Board acted after the Parkland mothers, some of them breaking down as they spoke, said their daughters had suffered from the program’s out-of-control bullying last year.
The mother’s also had a problem with the way the cheerleading program was funded. They said they were forced to pay thousands for each daughter to join the cheerleading team in violation of the anti-pay-for-play policies of the School Board.
Several of the mothers had a hard time controlling of their emotions. One woman took a minute to compose herself before she could talk about how the bullying affected her daughter.
“Its painful for me to see my daughters like this,” said another.
Others charged that despite their repeated complaints to Principal Washington Collado and other top administrators, nothing was done.
Kathy Silver said she went to Collado three times in the spring about the bullying of her daughter.
The principal not only did nothing during the last school year about the bullying. He rehired Prochilo for this school year.
“I feel nobody has listened to us at all…my daughters were retaliated against because I raised questions,” said parent Tammy Tornari, fighting back tears.
Forged Permission Slips
One of the questions raised by Tornari and others was why their daughters were pressured into forging parents’ signatures on field trip permission slips.
Eight girls gave sworn testimony to school investigators that the coach ordered them to forge the signatures and turn in the slips immediately or they wouldn’t be allowed to cheer.
Invesrtigators found “conclusive evidence that some of the studens did sign their parents’ name on the release forms and that this occurred while they were under the supervision of Coach Prochilo…contrary to Procilo’s statement that she did not know about the forms, the choreographer and a few of the students stated that Prochilo handed out pens or other writing instruments. The choreographer also started he recalled that Prochilo had searched for extra pens for two students. This would indicate that Prochilo likely knew that the students were preparing to write.”
Despite that, the Special Investigative Unit agents said they could not find probable cause to believe Prochilo was guilty of violating field trip policies.
The members, many of them mothers themselves, were clearly affected and shocked by the stories.
“My heart goes out to you,” said Chairwoman Ann Murray.
“You guys are very brave to have continued to fight. It shouldn’t happen to one kid,” said member Nora Rupert, who added that her child’s middle school experience was ruined by bullying.
Member Katie Leach complained angrily that “this employee is already in place. We haven’t approved this person for a position and she shouldn’t even be there…These girls need to be safe.”
Board members demanded Runcie immediately investigate the entire program. They will make a final decision about the future of the coach after they get the results of an investigation by Runcie. It could come as early as the next meeting.