Charter Oak High School fired its junior varsity boys water polo coach in late August over what the school deemed as inappropriate photos of the openly gay coach taken at some non-school related events.
Mitch Stein, who previously coached water polo from 1995 to 1998, was fired after coming back to the high school to coach only four months prior to his termination.
One photo shows Stein suggestively holding a corndog to his face and another has Stein posing with men in drag. Stein was never wearing anything sexually suggestive in the pictures nor were any students linked to the photos.
“The only thing these pictures prove is that I’m gay,” Stein said.
Facebook and Myspace Photos Surface
Some of the pictures are a few years old. One was taken over a decade ago.
The timing of the photos’ surfacing is highly questionable, according to Stein.
Two weeks before the start of school, Charter Oak High School Principal Kathleen Wiard informed Howard Hyde, varsity swim coach, that at least half of his athletes had not completed their yearly physical clearing them for competition.
The students had one week to complete their physicals or be barred from competing.
By the deadline, only three students did not complete their physicals. As punishment, Hyde made the students wash the cars of some school administrators and faculty.
According to Stein, an angry parent of one of the students complained about the punishment to Stein after practice.
Soon after, an anonymous parent sent an envelope containing a letter and several of Stein’s MySpace and Facebook photos to the principal’s office.
Stein’s accounts were public at the time.
According to Stein, the letter chastised the school for hiring him and said he was unfit to work with children. Stein was relieved of his duties that very day and was told not to go near the pools.
“In that first initial meeting, I was shocked,” said Stein, who feels his First Amendment rights were violated. “I was immediately worried about my daughter and the ramifications.”
Stein’s daughter, Devynn, is a freshman at COHS.
She has been coping well with the situation, but some incidents occurred.
Several students confronted Devynn and called her father a cross dresser and a transvestite. One of the confronting students threw gum in the daughter’s hair.
“It’s my biggest fear that … this could escalate,” Stein said.
Devynn has refused to transfer, saying that she loves the school and wants to stay where her dad was educated. Stein graduated from Charter Oak High School in 1993.
Principal Wiard and a district administrator confirmed Stein’s firing during a meeting with Stein.
Stein said he asked the administrator point-blank if there would there be an issue if he (Stein) had been photographed with cheerleaders wearing skimpy outfits. According to Stein, the administrator said “No, because that’s their uniform.” Stein replied “These are drag queens. This is their uniform.”
Stein believes that he was fired because of his sexual orientation, a claim officials deny.
Terry Stanfill, assistant superintendent of human resources, told Patch the district cannot comment on personnel matters, adding “The district doesn’t discriminate against anybody due to their sexual orientation.”
Attempts to reach Wiard were unsuccessful.
Parents have sent numerous letters to the board members and made a plethora of phone calls to the school demanding Stein be reinstated.
“He’s a good parent and a really nice guy,” said Rod Munoz, Aquatics booster club president.
“What he was fired over was not offensive at all,” said a coach who did not want to be identified because of the seriousness of the situation. “He’s a terrific coach and a great organizer.”
Stein still has a presence on campus as a parent, attending games to bring athletes refreshments and to help them organize donation drives. Before his firing, Stein secured a partnership with Kohl’s via the Kohl’s Cares for Kids campaign. Company employees will help with events and donate $500 a month for the entire year to the aquatics program.
“The reason I sent my daughter to Charter Oak and the reason why I’ve been so proactive … is because it’s the school and program that I attended and I wanted to give back,” Stein said.
An attorney, Brad Kane, learned of Stein’s story through the group “Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook” and offered his help.
Kane said, given the circumstances, there may very well have been discriminatory acts made by the school.
A demand letter was sent to the high school Sept. 5 requesting reinstatement, which, according to the lawyer, was ignored.
A Right to Sue letter was then filed Sept. 16 under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, a precursor to legal action.
“I just want to coach. I didn’t do this for the money. It was always about spending time with my kid and getting back to the program,” Stein said.