Denver Public Schools fires East High School cheerleading coach

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DENVER -- The cheerleading coach at East High School has been fired by Denver Public Schools and the district’s superintendent said serious mistakes were made by school leaders surrounding “forced splits” incident up until this point.

The controversy came to light when videos surfaced of cheer coach Ozell Williams pushing down on girls in the splits as they shrieked in pain.

One video shows 13-year-old Ally Wakefield asking Williams repeatedly to stop.

In June, the district said a cheerleader, her parents, East High School leaders and Williams met to discuss the forced splits exercise captured on video.

At that time, school leaders sided with Williams and he kept his job.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said school leaders thought the issue had been resolved and did not take the complaint to higher powers at the district or police.

Boasberg said that was a major mistake.

“We were wrong not to have taken certain actions in June, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone in our community,” Boasberg said.

While Williams is fired, four other district employees remain on leave -- principal Andy Mendelsberg, assistant principal and athletic director Lisa Porter, assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis and Denver Public Schools deputy general counsel Michael Hickman.

Boasberg said the district has hired an outside law firm to investigate who knew what information and when. The results of the investigation will determine if the remaining four employees will keep their jobs.

“It's important we learn the lessons from those mistakes and it's why we need to be transparent about it," Boasberg said.

"That’s partly why we are here tonight, to recognize there were serious mistakes made. I think it's important for parents to hear that and understand it because parents aren't going to believe that change unless there is a recognition that there were mistakes made."

The investigation will also analyze the district’s policies and procedures to see what changes need to be made to improve communication to make sure similar incidents don’t happen again.

“What were the mistakes made and what needs to be done differently? Clearly there was insufficient oversight of what happened and insufficient follow through and that needs to change,” Boasberg said.

Boasberg said forced splits are not allowed in Denver schools.

"What is shown in the videos is extraordinarily distressing,” Boasberg said. "This technique is dangerous and unacceptable."

The Denver Police Department launched an investigation into possible child abuse when the videos were brought to its attention.

Boasberg said the results of DPS’s investigation will be made public when the investigation is complete.

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