The Sisters School Board agreed Wednesday, October 2 to investigate concerns of several Sisters parents regarding coaching in the Sisters High School girls basketball program.

The investigation will be the third conducted by the Sisters School District in regard to complaints of emotional abuse brought by players’ families. The current investigation is in response to a “supplemental tort claim notice” and will be conducted by an outside investigator.

“The District is going to investigate, but it’s going to outsource it to a third party,” Melinda Thomas, an attorney with the High Desert Education Service District (ESD) told The Nugget Wednesday night.

The supplemental tort claim notice came in the form of a letter addressed to the Sisters School Board. The letter, provided separately to The Nugget by the attorney for one of the families involved, challenges the validity of an investigation conducted in June by ESD Human Resources Director Jayel Hayden, which came in response to an initial tort claim notice in May.

The report on that investigation, a copy of which was obtained by The Nugget, found that the coaches’ conduct violated District policy prohibiting “harassment, intimidation or bullying.” Hayden also noted that, among participating basketball families he interviewed, “there was a stark difference of opinion among the families as to whether the conduct was abusive or appropriate.”

Communications received by The Nugget also indicate a wide disparity in how participants in and observers of the basketball program perceive the matter, with some raising concerns and others enthusiastic about the coaching style.

The June report found that Sisters High School Athletic Director Gary Thorson conducted a prompt investigation of the complaints “and issued a verbal directive to the coaches to improve their behavior, which occurred.”

The parents in the complaint consider the original investigations biased in favor of the coaches and the supplemental tort claim letter alleges that employment references (which the Hayden report found had not been properly documented) were misrepresented.

Joey Hougham, the father of two players who left the team last year, emphasized the findings of a policy violation in public comments to the school board at their October 2 meeting.

“(The coaches) bullied, harassed and intimidated the players,” he said. “That’s what the findings were.”

Hougham also summarized issues raised by the supplemental tort claim letter: “There were issues with the particular investigation ... basically how the coaches were valued over the particular players.”

School board chairman Jay Wilkins told Hougham that the board was going to address the supplemental tort claim letter in closed executive session that night. He assured Hougham that his concerns are taken seriously.

“We would never tolerate bullying and harassment to the point where it would go unaddressed,” Wilkins said. “We would certainly address it.”

Hougham noted that basketball season starts soon and, “The players are faced with the choice to either just not play or they have to go in and face the people that caused these problems.”

The school board met in executive session Wednesday evening. Under Oregon law, press is allowed to attend executive sessions but not to report upon the content of those sessions. The board reconvened in open session and announced the decision to pursue a new investigation with a third-party investigator.