Madison-Plains Superintendent Bernie Hall has said he will offer limited cooperation with law enforcement officials as they investigate a fight among students during a school event.
Members of the Madison-Plains boys basketball team used a district provided iPad to record a fight involving students in the team locker room prior to their game at Whitehall on Thursday, Jan. 30.
On the video, several teammates are seen fighting as other players encourage them to fight.
Hall has said he will cooperate with Madison County law enforcement officials, but not with Whitehall Police.
“I am going to give everything electronic and written over to the Sheriff’s Office,” said Hall. “I won’t have any dealings with the Whitehall Police. If they want to coordinate with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, it will be up to them.”
Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin said his office has not been working with the district and since the fight occurred in Franklin County, he does not have jurisdiction.
“Just because the school (Madison-Plains) is located in Madison County, that does not give us jurisdiction,” Sabin said.
The sheriff said the iPad involved is at his office “for safe keeping” in case Whitehall Police want to see the video.
“They have the criminal jurisdiction. They would do the investigation, not us,” said Sabin.
At press time, the Whitehall Police had not returned the phone call requesting information.
Hall has said he does not feel the public should know how the district is handling the situation. He said this is a “disciplinary code of conduct that deals with the students.”
The Madison Press has made a formal records request for a copy of the video. That request was denied by Hall.
According to Ohio law, the district must provide “an explanation, including legal authority, setting forth why the request was denied.”
Hall has not given that information and said he does not know of any legal authority to not give information to the public but said, “I will get that to certainly within 24 hours.”
Hall said he has “spoken with people who advise the school.” He said he has not spoken with the Madison County Prosecutor.
The superintendent said decisions would be made, not on opinion of law, but rather, “to what degree they (school board members) want things known.”
He added that some parents might not want it known their child was part of the incident.
Hall said the matter may be discussed tonight as part of a special meeting of the board of education.
Currently, the special meeting cites “calamity days” as the purpose of the meeting. Districts may not, by law, discuss issues other than those listed publicly as part of a special meeting.
According to Superintendent Hall, if the fight were discussed as part of the special meeting, “it would be discussed in executive session.” He said the board could go into executive session because it involves discipline of employees, which is a permitted reason for executive session.
When asked if Hall expected disciplinary action involving district personnel, he replied, “No. Not at this time.”
Students involved have already been disciplined.
“Mr. Clark (Madison-Plains High School principal Chris Clark), Mr. Mason (Madison-Plains High School athletics director Matt Mason) and Mr. Warner (varsity basketball coach Nathan Warner) met with parents concerning this issue,” said Hall.
Following that meeting, an undisclosed number of Golden Eagles varsity basketball players were suspended for a portion of the season. The players began serving their suspensions on Saturday, Feb. 2.
“There were a lot of guys suspended,” Mason said on Monday, Feb. 3. “We had some boys make some poor decisions in the locker room at Whitehall before the game and now they’ve got to suffer the consequences. We’ve followed school policy and given the proper reprimand.”
He said the teams and schedules will be adjusted for the suspensions.
“The season is going to go on,” Mason said. “We won’t play any freshmen games. Our freshmen will play JV and our JV players will play varsity.”
Mason wouldn’t go into further detail, but did say the players involved have accepted the punishment and are supporting their replacements.
“I look at this not as if these are bad kids,” Mason said. “But rather good kids that made poor choices. We’re going to come out of this in a better place. The kids are going to serve their suspensions and we’re going to put this behind us.”
Hall said he would not give the public his feelings on the matter or to how it was handled.
“I would rather not share those at this time,” said Hall. “I don’t want to.”
He said there likely would be changes made to district policy as a result of the incident.
“We will look at changes and ways of making it better, I can assure you of that,” said Hall. “A lot of these changes and plans will be put in place with more expectation on everyone — students, coaches, athletic directors, principals, myself.”
Mac Cordell can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 21 or via Twitter @MacCordell.