LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Parents and community members came together once again to speak out against the process for the next Lansing School District superintendent.
This was the second public input session, hosted by the Michigan Association of School Boards. The first, which happened November 7, was heated at times as residents voiced their concerns over Acting Superintendent Mark Coscarella. Tuesday’s meeting was considerably less heated, but attendees were still passionate about the issue.
Coscarella, who was appointed after Yvonne Caamal Canul retired as superintendent earlier this year, is also the front-runner for the permanent position.
But since he was appointed, allegations of inappropriate conduct, including sexual harassment, have resurfaced, leading members of the public to question if Coscarella is fit to lead the district.
The sexual harassment allegations, made by a former student teacher of Coscarella’s, date back to 2000, when Coscarella was a teacher and baseball coach in the Holt Public School district. According to police reports, the alleged harassment started when Coscarella would comment on her clothes and had a “sexual sense of humor.” The victim initially thought it was harmless, but, eventually, things progressed.
After a vacation, the reports say Coscarella allegedly bragged about his tan lines and following topless women at a beach in Florida.
Then, in April 2000, Coscarella allegedly asked the student teacher to stay after school. The victim told police he then stripped down to his underwear and, while he did not expose himself or touch her inappropriately, he danced around her in just his underwear.
Coscarella denies the woman’s allegations.
However, in 2002, Coscarella resigned from Holt Public Schools amid other allegations he either gave pornographic material to his baseball team, or turned a blind eye to it.
Lansing Public School District Board of Education President Rachel Willis said in a statement to 6 News the district was aware of the allegations in 2014, when Coscarella was hired, calling them “unsubstantiated.”
But the fact the allegations exist does not sit well with some parents in the district.
“It’s terrifying as a parent, quite frankly, that there would be a culture of ‘Well, let’s just make sure that we cover ourselves with regard to Title IX and reporting, and not actually trying to change the culture so that our kids are safe,’ ” Elinor Jordan said.
“We’re all hoping for a district where sexual violence is not tolerated. We’re all hoping that the school district will respond appropriately and we’ll have leadership that is both trained and equipped to do that,” said Tashmica Torok, who is also the Founder & Executive Director of The Firecracker Foundation. “But if the school board moves forward with hiring someone with two allegations of sexual misconduct, I don’t know how anyone in the district will have faith in that.”
The application deadline for the internal search is November 28. Candidates will then be selected for interviews on December 5, with public interviews slated for December 11 and 12.
But many parents believe the district is moving too fast, and say their advice is simply to slow down the process.
“Take this decision very seriously,” Jordan said. “There’s no reason to think that what we’re looking for is someone who just hasn’t been held criminally liable for something. We’re looking for the best person to run Lansing School District.”
The next regular Lansing School District Board of Education meeting is November 21.