I have again started writing my weekly columns that run in Friday’s sports section. This week’s column (published today in the Star-News sports section on page 3) focuses on the lack of transparency in the recent dismissal of Muir track coach Michael Knowles.
MIGUEL MELENDEZ COLUMN
There’s always two sides to a story, right?
Well, in this case there are possibly three.
Last week we reported the firing of Muir High School track and field coach Michael Knowles.
Knowles had been the school’s track coach in some capacity or another for 28 years, including 10 years as girls head coach and six as the boys head coach.
I went to the Muir High administration for answers and was basically stonewalled until principal Sheryl Orange returned my calls hours later after initially citing a busy schedule and wanting to schedule the interview for the following day.
Even when we heard from Orange, most of the key questions asked were deflected to vice principal Dr. Charles Park. But how was I supposed to get answers when Park would not return repeated calls or respond to messages left on his district-issued cell phone?
Look, I understand school officials — in this case the Pasadena Unified School District — want to cover their bases. But as a reporter I am simply doing my job by asking questions, and I understand Orange and even Park wanted some time to figure out their answers.
But to almost completely ignore our calls just makes the situation read like the school and district have something to hide.
A quick “I’d like to help you but I just can’t comment at this time” would have sufficed.
This much I said to Steve Miller, the director of human resources at PUSD, and to Binti Harvey, the director of communications at PUSD.
When Park was pressed on specific reasons for Knowles’ firing he cited a “personnel issue.”
“I have nothing to hide,” Knowles said. “If I need to sign anything tell me where. I don’t have anything to hide. They can release all my records.”
Well, it’s not that easy. State law prohibits employers from releasing confidential records. Sorry, Michael.
“I have not done anything wrong at Muir, to the program or to the kids,” Knowles said. “All I wanted to do was build the program and keep it going. It’s for the kids. It’s not for myself.”
That’s where someone else disagrees.
Ken Howard, Muir’s football coach, went through a similar situation to what Knowles is going through.
There was talk about removing Howard as the school’s football coach because he was a walk-on and was told by the administration they wanted a teacher in the position. Howard pleaded his case and was retained.
“I’ve had my problems with the current administration,” Howard said. “When I found out what the problems were I looked into it. I’m not going to hold gripes and I’m not here for the adults. I’m here for the kids.
“When we had our issues about replacing me we had our chance to prove ourselves.”
Howard and Knowles did not have a falling out. In fact, they have been friends for 48 years and remain good friends.
“I’m just calling it like it is,” Howard said. “He’s my brother’s best friend and he helped raise me but I told him to lose his pride and do it for the kids.”
Howard said the school is within its right to remove a walk-on coach and bring a teacher on board.
But after 28 years, would that not have been a slap in the face?
“Not when they tell me they want a teacher who is on staff and I look at myself and I don’t have the credentials,” Howard replied. “How could I argue with that?”
But that’s where the root of the problem is.
Knowles was told two months ago he would no longer be the program’s coach because the school wanted a teacher in place.
OK, Knowles gets that.
But Park told Knowles in a Dec. 15 meeting there was a complaint from the district and cited that as the reason for Knowles’ dismissal.
And when he asked what was the complaint, Knowles was told the school wanted to go a different direction. No specifics. It’s one thing to not divulge specifics to this nosey reporter, but to not give Knowles the reason or complaint looks suspicious.
“I just want some clarity,” Knowles said. “My reputation is not at stake but people get to thinking and make their own assumptions.”
Knowles asked for a meeting with PUSD superintendent Edwin Diaz but instead was referred to Shelly James, the district’s chief of human resources. They will meet today.
No word on whether Knowles will be reinstated. He would prefer it but despite the insistence from Howard to re-apply, Knowles will not.
“The way they went about it was wrong,” Knowles said. “It was one lie after another lie and that’s what’s made it fishy.”
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