Gig Harbor High School head swim coach Mike Kelly was placed on paid administrative leave in January after allegations he sexually harassed a female athlete during the fall 2016 swim season.
He was disciplined for unprofessional conduct and violating social media rules set by the Peninsula School District.
Kelly remained suspended during an investigation by an independent investigator retained by the District. Superintendent Robert Manahan notified Kelly of the suspension Jan. 10.
During the approximate two-week suspension, he was ordered to not have any contact with students, staff or parents.
After the investigation, the district ruled Kelly’s behavior violated district policies and procedures that outline professional staff/student boundaries.
The district said his behavior did not constitute sexual harassment under the district’s policy and did not violate federal Title IX protections.
The student’s family appealed the district’s decision to the board of directors April 13. A letter from board Vice President Leslie Harbaugh on April 21 said the directors had upheld the district’s decision.
The family has filed an appeal to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Kelly declined to comment on the case.
A statement from Director Cristi McCorkle of the Washington Education Association Olympic UniServ Council stated:
“After working with the district on this particular issue, the union believes this case to be closed. The district has investigated the incident fully and has reached a conclusion.”
It added that Kelly “is a highly regarded swim coach in the Gig Harbor area and will continue to work positively with the talented, committed, athletes of Peninsula School District.”
The student swam on the school’s team and played water polo — which Kelly also coached — for several years but no longer attends the high school.
She filed the complaint about Kelly with the School District on Nov. 29.
It alleges that, during the 2016-17 swim season, Kelly made sexually harassing comments to her on two occasions and that she witnessed harassment in a third incident.
The Gateway obtained records of the investigation by attorney Richard Kaiser through a public records request. According to the report:
In the first incident, the student, whose name is redacted in the report, told Kelly she had a “tweaked” hip muscle during swim practice. He allegedly asked her if the injury happened during “extra-curricular conduct” with her boyfriend.
In the second incident, the student asked during practice to stretch a groin muscle, to which Kelly allegedly asked if the injury occurred earlier in the day “with her boyfriend.”
A third incident allegedly occurred in Kelly’s office where he, the student and several other female students, plus assistant girls swimming coach Diana Litsch, were present.
The students were eating and, when one dropped some food, Litsch allegedly asked, “Are you having trouble getting that into your mouth?” Kelly is said to have stated, “Well, they don’t have trouble getting other things in their mouths.”
According to the report, Kelly denies making the statements. Litsch said she could not remember the incident in Kelly’s office, but said he uses innuendo as a type of humor with students.
The report also discusses prohibited social media contact between Kelly and several student athletes where, on Instagram, Kelly commented on photos posted by students.
During a swim team photo shoot, Kelly allegedly mentioned a student’s Instagram photo, telling the student to smile similar to the picture.
The report also states that Kelly did not respond adequately to concerns raised by the student and her parents that behavior in the girls locker room was “overly sexual and creating a hostile environment.”
The student alleged Kelly dismissed the concerns.
Kelly was hired in November 2001 to be head swimming coach at Gig Harbor High. He was hired strictly as a coach, and is paid a $4,772 stipend for each swimming season.
Kelly has no other investigations or disciplinary actions in his personnel file.
During his employment with the Peninsula School District, Kelly took online training classes that included four “Boundary Invasion-Full Course” sessions lasting five minutes and three “What Every Employee Needs to Know” sessions lasting about one hour.
He also was provided with copies of the district’s sexual harassment and professional staff/student boundary policies.
In the letter after the board of directors hearing, Harbaugh reiterated that Kelly’s alleged acts were “not sufficiently severe and pervasive to constitute a policy violation.”
However, she stated there was sufficient evidence to support the allegation that Kelly used sexual innuendo during practice.
In addition, the investigation confirmed Kelly did not respond adequately to concerns over behavior in the girls locker room, had communicated with students over Instagram and used sexual innuendo while communicating with students, Harbaugh wrote.
The board also said the district made sufficient efforts to remedy and resolve these issues.
The efforts included disciplining Kelly, instructing him to stop communicating with students through social media and having him take additional training and undergo increased supervision, including “drop-in” observations by administrators.
Additional training was required for all coaches, including Kelly, which was completed May 2.
In its Sexual Harassment/Student Policy, the district defines sexual harassment as “the unwelcome conduct or communication of a sexual nature.”
A hostile environment is defined as “when sexual harassment is sufficiently serious to interfere with or limit the student’s ability to participate or benefit from the school’s program.”