Crestwood Superintendent David Toth has been tight-lipped about recent allegations that started internal and police investigations into the Red Devils football team.
He has cited federal privacy rules, which prohibit him from identifying students who may be involved. However, those rules do not prohibit him from discussing the incident in general, legal experts say.
Elizabeth Shaver, an associate professor at the University of Akron School of Law, told the Record-Courier that the 1974 federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act typically prohibits school officials from publicly disclosing “personally identifiable information” about a student. That includes private medical information and most matters of discipline, she said.
But “to the extent that the district or officials have shared anything with parents of the football team or students individually, that does not appear to be under the privacy laws,” she said.
For example: School officials can’t tell Parent A that the child of Parent B was punished for committing a crime or misbehaving, but could tell the gathered parents of the more than 30 boys on the Crestwood football team they are investigating allegations against members of the team.
Allegations of misconduct involving the football team caused the cancellation of two Crestwood High School football games, including the Sept. 29 away game at Mogadore, and Friday’s game at Crestwood, which was scheduled to be its homecoming game. Prior to canceling the games, school officials sent the allegations on to the Mantua Police Department, which conducted its own investigation into whether any laws were broken.
The completed police investigation has been forwarded to the Portage County Prosecutor’s Office for consideration of charges. Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci confirmed that his office has received the Mantua police report, which was delivered to a Juvenile Division prosecutor Thursday morning.
Vigluicci said he would review the investigative report and determine if charges are warranted. Mantua Police Chief Harry Buchert was not available for comment Thursday, but in a news release Wednesday laid out how his department came to know about the allegations: “Crestwood Schools contacted the Mantua Police Department on Thursday, September 28th, in reference to a incident that occurred on July 28th, during a football exercise. The incident was reported to school administrators, who in turn, contacted the school resource officer. Mantua Police, in cooperation with Crestwood Schools, investigated the incidents, and conducted several interviews. The incidents appear to be school related. At this time, unless further details evolve, all interviews have been completed. All information will be forwarded to the Portage County Prosecutor’s office for review of possible criminal charges.” The language in the release is identical to the narrative given by school resource officer Sgt. Joe Urso on the initial incident report from Sept. 28, when he first learned of the incident from school officials.
No reason was given for the two-month time span between the date of the alleged incident and when school officials reported it to police.
Toth said the district was not made aware of any incident until Sept. 28 when they immediately informed police and began an investigation of its own.
He said the district investigated and found “misconduct” but has declined to give further details.
When asked if any staff members have been disciplined, Toth said, “We don’t discuss personnel matters.”
He said the district has “almost” wrapped up its investigation.
As for the public, it has no right to review police investigative records during an open investigation, said attorney Mark R. Weaver, a crisis communications expert and former Deputy Ohio Attorney General who now works with school districts facing high-profile crises.
Weaver said issues of discipline may be public once the discipline is final, or when they involve “an issue of violence,” which includes rape or assault. Weaver said if a high school chess team is accused of “beating up a bunch of kids” on the playground, the result of any disciplinary hearings would be public record minus “personally identifiable” information of the students involved.
Likewise, the results of any police investigation into the matter also would be public record, again with any personally identifiable information blacked out or redacted from the final report, Weaver said.
Toth confirmed last week that the district held “a brief informational meeting with parents of high school football players only.” On Wednesday, he said he plans to hold another such meeting in the near future, while asking the Crestwood community for patience and understanding.
“While the Crestwood Local School District understands the desire of our community to know the specifics surrounding alleged misconduct that resulted in the decision to suspend all high school football operations pending the completion of the school district’s investigation, the Crestwood Local School District asks that everyone be mindful of the fact that our comments are limited by state and federal privacy laws. We ask for your patience as we work through our investigatory process,” Toth said in a news release.
Weaver said he often advises school districts to “get as much info out as you can without undermining any privilege or confidentiality” when a crisis arises.
“Beyond that, you have parents and community members who are entitled to know when something is happening, even if they’re not entitled to know the exact details. I’m hopeful all school district leaders will want to be transparent to the extent possible, while also balancing the concern for laws about confidentiality.”