The Gettysburg Area School Board voted 6-2 Tuesday to retain a high school tennis coach whose employment has been the focal point of three meetings.
At their meeting on Aug. 21, the Gettysburg Area School District’s Board of Directors voted to remove David Yates from the administration’s list of recommended hires. Yates, who is transgender and identifies as Sasha, has been the district’s boys’ and girls’ high school tennis coach since 2018. Yates’ reinstatement as the girls’ coach first appeared on the Aug. 7 agenda. Boys play tennis in the spring, so Yates’ appointment as their coach has not yet come before the board.
Last school year, administrators received reports that Coach Yates had changed in a girls’ locker room. Gettysburg Area High School Principal Jeremy Lusk said after the meeting that Yates understood the concern, and complied with a request to change in private.
“It became a non-issue,” Lusk said.
Board members Kenny Hassinger, Michael Dickerson, Al Moyer, Tim Seigman, AmyBeth Hodges, and Jeremy Davis voted for Yates’ reappointment Tuesday. Michelle Smyers and Ryan Morris opposed the motion. Timon Linn was absent due to a medical emergency that occurred at the Gettysburg Area Middle School before the meeting, Hassinger said.
Hassinger, who serves as board president, announced at the beginning of the meeting that he was enacting a clause in the board’s public comment policy that gives him permission to reduce the normal time limit of four minutes per comment. Hassinger gave each speaker one minute to share thoughts and limited the comment period to 30 minutes.
The policy alteration caused many commenters to speak quickly. Some were cut off before finishing. Hassinger warned those who refused to stop that they could be removed from the building. Hassinger issued the same threat to audience members disrupting speakers. A staff member controlling the microphone turned it off at times when people continued to speak after being told to stop.
“We are grown adults in here, and we better start acting like it,” Hassinger said.
At the Aug. 21 meeting, two people spoke in opposition to Yates. Several more took to the microphone on Tuesday. Common themes used to oppose Yates included concern about her changing clothes in a student locker room and how the speakers feared that the incident could put students in harm’s way.
Other speakers, including many current and former tennis players and their parents, expressed appreciation for Yates’ positive influence on tennis players. Some of Yates’ supporters acknowledged adults should not change clothes in a student locker room but added the board does not have a policy prohibiting it. When asked after the Aug. 21 meeting, Superintendent Perrin said the district does not have a policy pertaining to bathroom or locker room use.
Prior to the vote, Hassinger chastised members of the public for commenting on the issue without having all the relevant information. By law, the school district is prohibited from commenting on personnel matters. Hassinger said Yates’ employment was in question because of her bathroom usage. He stressed the fact that Yates is transgender is irrelevant.
“The narrative got rewritten, maybe that’s the school board’s fault, maybe it’s the administration, maybe it is where we are as a society,” Hassinger said.
“As a society, it is not helpful to paint with a broad brush when you do not have all of the facts,” Dickerson said. “As you guys point out, discriminating against people and making accusations can be harmful.”
Smyers has been a vocal opponent of the district employing Yates. Tuesday night, she defended her “First Amendment rights” and pledged to defend others’ rights.
“I am not a schoolyard bully, I am not anti-LGTBQ, I am not a transphobe, I am not a homophobe, I am not a fascist,” Smyers said in response to some of the commentors.
Athletic director resigns
Moments before the majority of the board welcomed Yates back to the district’s athletic staff, they said goodbye to their athletic director. Casey Thurston first joined the GASD staff in 2007 as a head girls’ basketball coach and teacher. She was promoted to athletic director in 2018.
After the meeting, Lusk said Thurston had been supervising the girls’ tennis team while the administration waited for the board to act on Yates’ employment. He also credited senior Tristan Smith for assisting Thurston.
Lusk said the athletic director job will be posted on the district’s website on Wednesday, Sept. 6. Thurston’s resignation is effective Sept. 29. In the interim, other administrators and staff will handle Thurston’s responsibilities.
“Casey’s integrity is beyond compare,” Lusk said. “She will do the right thing at every turn, even when it is hard. I am going to miss her more than I can put into words.”
Alex J. Hayes, Editor, has spent almost two decades in the Adams County news business. He is heavily involved in the community through his volunteer roles at the Rotary Club of Gettysburg, Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church, United Way of Adams County, and Healthy Adams County. Alex is also a freelance writer for several other publications in South Central Pennsylvania.
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