The concerned citizens who spoke at the DeSoto school board meeting Monday in defense of football coach Todd Peterman numbered only four, because reports that the board might vote against his return began circulating just an hour and a half before the meeting was scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.
UPDATE: At 11:30 p.m., DeSoto ISD board of trustees president Carl Sherman Jr. said the board would take no further action on personnel matters, at least delaying any decision on whether Peterman’s contract would be renewed.
“We are charged with essentially protecting and providing a great education for the 10,000 students we represent,” Sherman said. “ So at this time the board has no further action. No further action will be taken tonight. Much thought and due dilligence will be done on behalf of the district to make sure that our community is proud of everyone that our district employs.”
After the board had moved on from public comment to other agenda items, dozens of football players began filtering into an already-packed board room, but did not get a chance to speak, as they had not formally requested to do so.
It was not clear Monday night why the board was considering letting Peterman’s contract expire without renewal, but some, including former DeSoto player and retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker Zachary Orr speculated that the move might be racially motivated. Peterman is white, while coaching at a high school in a district whose student makeup is 77.7 percent black, according to the DeSoto ISD website.
The makeup of the DeSoto board is four black members and three white members. Peterman replaced Claude Mathis, who is black, after the 2014 season, when Mathis was hired onto the SMU football staff. The Eagles went 6-6 in Peterman’s first season in 2015 before running the table and winning a Class 6A Division II state title behind all-state quarterback Shawn Robinson.
Orr’s father, Terry, was one of those who did speak in the public comment portion of the meeting Monday. All four who spoke did so in defense and praise of Peterman.
“I pray to God this has nothing to do with race,” Terry Orr said. “But when I got the news, I said, ‘You know what, I’m not surprised at all.’ ”
Terry Orr went on to read from a DeSoto ISD management and performance review document from January 2016 before he was cut off for time by the board.
The document reads, in part: “DeSoto ISD’s board has an atmosphere of distrust among board members, resulting in ineffective communication, which compromises the Board of Trustees’ ability to openly deliberate issues and effectively govern the district. Furthermore, board members lack adequate training in board member and superintendent roles and responsibilities, and thus frequently get involved in the day-to-day administration and management of the district.”
Arlington school district athletic director Kevin Ozee tweeted in support of Peterman on Monday, saying that he should “go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated.”
Former DeSoto ISD board member Vandous Stripling, while the board discussed personnel matters in executive session, condemned any report that the potential move to let Peterman go would be based on race.
“That’s a nonsense statement. Every single head coach in this [school] district is Caucasian, with the exception of one,” Stripling said. “To make such an asinine statement is embarrassing and ridiculous. Stop reporting that nonsense.”
Neither Stripling, nor either of the Orrs, though, had a definite answer for why Peterman’s future at DeSoto was suddenly at risk.
Race has been at issue in other board discussions. Last year, WFAA reported that one of the white board members, Jerry Hall, caused controversy when he publicly urged district officials to “hire more white administrators and white teachers.”
The board went into executive session at 8:09 p.m. and was still discussing personnel matters at 10:30 p.m.
Matthew Martinez: 817-390-7667; @MCTinez817