Public again shows support for former girls basketball coach


COVINGTON — Emotions ran high at the Covington Board of Education meeting Wednesday evening. A large group of parents, current and former students, and community members attended the meeting to once again show support for former Girls Varsity Basketball Coach Brandon Studebaker, who was recently placed on administrative leave for the remainder of the 2022-2023 basketball season.

Despite being cleared of all criminal charges after an investigation by the Miami County Sheriff’s Office, District Superintendent Dr. Joseph Hoelzle stated in a letter addressed to parents of the girls basketball team that upon reviewing the evidence, he has concluded that Studebaker violated the written communication policy given to all high school coaches. Additionally, Hoelzle says Studebaker exchanged texts with one or more student-athletes that were not related to the operations of the varsity basketball team.

Julie Lowe, the mother of a former student-athlete, spoke during the open forum portion of the meeting. “He went above and beyond being a coach in this community,” she said of Studebaker. “If you’re [going to] punish one person, you better punish them all …”

Lowe went on to say she believes there are multiple staff members that have contacted students like her daughter personally, and that she feels the board is discriminating against Studebaker.

Later in the meeting, the board unanimously voted to approve supplemental contracts appointing District Athletic Director Ashley Johnson as interim reserve girls basketball coach, and Shawn Naff as interim head girls basketball coach. This was met with a barrage of heated comments from many of the visitors who, among other things, voiced their outrage towards members of the school board for their approval of the contracts. Multiple comments were made questioning whether the superintendent and the board were following district policy. There were also requests to see the messages that were used as evidence in the investigation, to which Hoelzle advised contacting his office to set up a private meeting during business hours. Angry outbursts from visitors continued as the board attempted to proceed with the remainder of the agenda, with one person being escorted from the meeting by police after he began using excessive profanity. Several moments later, a number of parents and community members walked out of the meeting.

In other business, the board held a brief organizational meeting, in which they voted on school board president and vice president. Lee Harmon was declared school board president for 2023, Mark Miller was declared vice president of the board for 2023, and all other appointments to various committees will remain the same for 2023. During this meeting the board also approved standing authorizations, investment interest proration, as well as dates and times for regular meetings. Meetings will continue to be held on the third Wednesday of each month at 5:30 p.m., unless otherwise modified by the board.

During the regular meeting, Hoelzle recognized the members of the board, stating that January is School Board Recognition Month statewide.

“All school board members get recognized at the January meeting. So I just wanted to pass out [a] Certificate of Appreciation and say ‘thank you’ for your service last year and this year on the school board,” he said.

Hoelzle shared that Ritter Plumbing completed the installation of a faucet from the water house at the stadium, which will be used to water the football practice fields. The school was previously using a fire hydrant to water the fields. He also shared that the district is partnering with the Covington Eagles and the village of Covington to purchase a ballistic safety shield for the police department and school resource officers.

The board voted to approve the treasurer’s report, tax budget, and to accept donations from the Covington Eagles, Covington Optimist Club, Felger Memorial Trust, Covington ARIE, OHSAA Golf Outing, Arens/Ben Robinson, and Eldon & Janice Kuntz. The board also approved the 2023-2024 school year calendar, which places four personal development days at the beginning of the year. This will allow for completion of the state-required Dyslexia training for teachers from the elementary school. The board approved the adjustment of certified contract degree columns pending receipt of final transcripts from Amber Groppi, Kate Reck, and Adam Sweigart, who have all recently completed a Master’s degree. Several certified substitutes were approved for the remainder of the 2022-2023 school year, including Tamara Bynard-Ganger, Sarah Bennett, and Steven Stefandis. Six chaperones for the student trip to Gettysburg during the month of March were also approved. In addition, Business Professionals of America trips to both State and National Leadership Conferences were approved by the board.

The only discussion item on the agenda was the upcoming purchase of a new school bus. New buses are typically purchased every other year, and the estimated cost of this purchase is between $80,000 to $100,000. Long-time bus driver Kenny Adams offered his purchase recommendation to the board. Adams asked the board to highly consider purchasing a Bluebird bus as opposed to a Thomas bus, as Bluebird parts are housed in Lima, Ohio, and most repairs can be completed locally.

“Bluebird also makes the chassis, they make the frame, and they make the box, so they make the whole thing fit together. Whereas [with] Thomas, you’re at Freightliner’s mercy,” Adams said. He added that he believes the board should consider convenience and safety versus price.

The board entered into executive session with no intended action. The next board of education meeting will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 5:30 p.m.

The writer is a regular contributor to Miami Valley Sunday News.

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