GREENWICH — After months on administrative leave, high school Head Rugby Coach Joe Kelly and his assistant coaches have been reinstated by officials in the Greenwich Public Schools.
The school conducted its own examination after an investigator for the state Department of Children and Family cleared the coaches of the claims made against them toward the end of the season in the last school year. Now, the coaches can interact with students and go onto school grounds.
“We’re vindicated without suspicion,” said Kelly, adding that the message still is not clear since people continue to ask him about the allegations.
A school letter concludes a series of events dating to the end of May, when the rugby team traveled to the Rugby State Championships in Kansas City, Mo. Kelly and his fellow coaches reportedly found a student in violation of a school code. Kelly has not specified which rule the teenager broke, but several sources have said the student was drinking.
The coaches suspended the player for the rest of the season and notified the Greenwich High athletic department. The disciplinary measure angered the player’s parent, who according to several sources vowed to “take down the program.”
Kelly said he heard nothing from the athletic department about the matter until he received his suspension notice from administrators on June 12 — the same day that he received the Greenwich Old Timers Athletic Association lifetime achievement award.
“As a result of our discussion, you are being returned to your rugby coaching position from your administrative leave effective immediately,” said the letter, signed by Director of Human Resources Robert Stacy and dated Aug. 20. Those discussions took place in mid-August, according to the letter.
Stacy previously stated the period of leave was “with pay and without prejudice.” He could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
In early August, an investigator with DCF wrote to the coaches, saying “abuse or neglect has not been substantiated” as a result of the investigation. The whole process motivated Kelly to act on behalf of other teachers and coaches under investigation by the DCF.
“Teachers and coaches are accused and denied due process,” said the coach, adding that he was deemed “guilty until proven innocent.”
The reinstatement was not anticlimactic, but it was “a little bit quiet,” rugby parent Dawn Stevens said.
Rugby families were relieved the program would not have to undergo changes, even though many families were confident that would not happen, she said. “This was so dragged out,” she said. “We were all relieved at the outcome.”
Stevens said the way school officials handled the situation made sense given how it originated with a parent complaint — even if their silence was frustrating at times. “They definitely wanted to keep moving forward,” she said. “I don’t think they had the ability to give more feedback.” She sees the last step as a “formality.”
“It was great when DCF cleared it, and that was loud enough,” she said.
Stevens has been speaking to next season’s captains, and she said they were able to start setting goals and preparing for the season, which begins in March, now that the coaches are reinstated.
“You need the back-up from the coaches from the get-go,” she said.