Marjory Stoneman Douglas High cheerleaders and parents flooded the Broward School Board meeting Tuesday, hoping to overturn the firing of a coach who was accused of bullying students, demanding fees from parents and other violations.
But after hours of passionate, sometimes teary testimony, School Board members unanimously declined to intervene in the matter — effectively letting Superintendent Robert Runcie’s dismissal of cheerleading coach Melissa Prochilo stand.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Tammy Tornari, one of several parents at the Parkland high school who had been complaining to Douglas Principal Washington Collado since January about rule-breaking in the cheerleading program.
When the complaints in recent weeks reached Runcie and the School Board, the superintendent removed Prochilo’s name from the district’s reappointment list of coaches and other part-time positions, which is subject to annual approval. That effectively ended Prochilo’s stint as cheerleading coach, though she is still a substitute teacher at Douglas.
After failing to get her old job back, Prochilo blamed School Board “politics” for her ouster.
“Just let the principals run the school, and keep the politics out,” she said, adding that she felt she’d done nothing wrong.
Some parents accused the coach of bullying students, allowing the squad captain to bully others on the team, and a host of district rule violations. Those included pressuring parents to contribute large sums to the booster club (rules require contributions to be voluntary), telling cheerleaders to forge their parents’ signature during an unauthorized field trip, and operating a bank account without school oversight, with expenditures that often benefited friends of Prochilo’s.
Parents cited evidence that included cheerleading team e-mails, website postings, and cancelled checks.
About 75 Prochilo supporters argued for the coach to be reinstated, stressing that the district’s internal investigations had not found Prochilo guilty of any wrongdoing. Investigators cleared Prochilo of telling her cheerleaders to forge parents signatures, even though eight cheer team members signed sworn affidavits saying they committed forgery at their coach’s urging. Results of another probe into the other complaints have not been released.
Prochilo supporters told board members that she is both kind and ethical. They said the parents who complained were on a “witch hunt” driven by the fact that their daughters weren’t good enough to earn starring roles on the cheer team.
Douglas freshman and cheerleader Brittany Bolger said it was the students complaining about the coach who were the bullies, as they had fabricated “rumors and lies” about Prochilo. She said the cheer team was “being antagonized and intimidated by these girls, who go through school calling themselves ‘The Plastics.’ ”
After board members upheld Prochilo’s firing, Runcie urged parents in the affluent Northwest Broward community to put the dispute behind them, and learn to get along with their neighbors again.
“You need to set an example for your children,” he said.
In other board action Tuesday, district staff released preliminary estimates on how well Broward will comply with state class-size requirements, with about 84 percent of classes expected to be in compliance this year — up from 54 percent a year ago.
Runcie said he anticipated the district may receive a small fine for not being in full compliance, but he does not want to implement “draconian” measures such as school enrollment caps.
The district also announced a new e-mail address for parents who have any lingering school bus problems: email@example.com.