An investigation by the school district into allegations that the Franklin County middle school boys basketball coach had made inappropriate comments pertaining to the sexuality of one of his players has led to disciplinary actions that include his reassignment to the Learning Center.
In a Nov. 4 letter, Principal Laurence Pender told Nathan Jones, who had worked as paraprofessional in the fifth grade, that he would not be allowed to attend any middle school basketball games for the rest of the school year.
“You have relinquished your position as basketball coach and are to consider this a formal reprimand,” Pender wrote. “You are hereby directed to refrain from singling out a student and speaking disparagingly of them.”
In addition, the principal wrote that Jones would be enrolled in equity training.
“The bottom line is as a coach for this district, you are to refrain from making comments to or about players of a personal nature,” Pender wrote. “There is no place for that in coaching. Period.”
The incident in question arose following the Seahawks’ away game in Wewahitchka on Oct. 21. A parent, Denisha Allen Alday, alleged that after the Seahawk victory over the Gators, the team stopped at the McDonald’s restaurant in Port St. Joe, Jones had engaged a group of students in conversation and said “I wouldn’t be surprised if he (the player) came to me and said he was gay.”
Following the initial investigation, Jones had voluntarily stepped down from his position, and was placed on paid administrative leave. A subsequent investigation by Karen Peddie, the district’s director of human resources, had included questioning students from both Franklin County Schools and the Apalachicola Bay Charter School, as well as McDonald’s employees, Pender wrote.
In a written summary that he submitted, Jones said he had sat down with Paul Bankston, the girls middle school basketball coach and discussed how the coaches felt the games had gone.
Jones said after he finished eating, he walked over to six of his players who were sitting together in a booth, five of whom had ridden on the bus.
“As I was approaching their table, I believe that I heard them state and joke inappropriately about (the young man’s) sexuality,” Jones wrote. “So in a moment of lapsed judgement, I reiterated what I believed I heard them say”
Jones said that after reiterating what he believed he had heard, “I told them it was wrong to talk about that. I did not disengage my conversation and continued to talk with them. “
Jones said he was then confronted by the player’s aunt, Mary Richardson, when he tried to leave the restaurant. He said he tried to remove himself from the situation, and then immediately messaged Alday, and told her “That something happened at McDonald’s.”
Jones said he made himself available to Alday to discuss the situation if she wanted, He said he did not hear back from Alday.
After he stepped down from the coaching post the following day, Jones wrote that “after much consideration and reflection, it would have been more favorable to myself, my team and (the young man) had I not reiterated the words but had just told the group of boys to stop discussing another person.
“The words were hurtful and my reiteration could have been misunderstood if the entire conversation was not heard,” he wrote. “I am sorry for the I handled the situation and I have learned from the experience.”
In his letter, Pender stressed that it is “not appropriate for a teacher at Franklin County Schools to engage in conversation about other students and their sexual orientation. These types of remarks are insensitive in nature and are not acceptable.”