HELENA -- Trustees at Jefferson High in Boulder voted unanimously Monday night to put a letter of reprimand in the file of a basketball coach for the way that he handled cutting a student with disabilities from the team.
School Board Chairwoman Kathy Jackson said the coach violated the district's nondiscrimination policy when he told a student that he was cut from the team because his mental disabilities affecting his ability to learn the plays.
Superintendent Jim Whealon decided to hire an investigator after parents of a freshman with mental disabilities claimed Rex Sonsteng, a math teacher, basketball coach and JHS alumnus, told the boy that he was cut from the team on Nov. 23 because of his inability to learn plays.
Dave Kosola, father of the freshman, said it's the language used that prompted the complaint to the school board. He said that, if the coach would have said his son was cut from the team because his skill set was not good enough, the issue would have been over.
Kosola said the incident accelerated quickly, and an apology early on to his son may have prevented the emotional and lengthy process.
Sonsteng was put on paid administrative leave while the Montana School Board Association conducted an investigation. During that time, the district paid a substitute $70 a day. The investigation itself had a price tag of $110 per hour for the investigation and $150 an hour for the attorney. MTSBA didn't provide an estimated total cost to the school board at the meeting.
Sonsteng has been back on the job since last week.
The allegation that Sonsteng referred to the student's disability when discussing why he was cut from the team was substantiated through the investigation. Kosola said he's OK with the outcome because it puts the school on notice that there was an issue.
"It's out that what he said was wrong," Kosola said. "He embarrassed himself and the school."
Trustee Stan Senechal said part of the board's decision was to provide the entire staff with training. He hopes that it will provide educators with communication training that will help them know how to best deal with students who have disabilities in the future.
Whealon said that, according to the collective bargaining agreement, if Sonsteng makes no violations of this nature in the next five years, the written reprimand will be removed from his file.