DENVER — An investigation is underway by Denver Public Schools and the Denver Police Department over an exercise used at cheer practices this summer at East High School.
In a video obtained from the mother of one of the cheerleaders, several girls can be seen being pushed down into the forced splits by the new cheer coach while their arms are held up by fellow teammates.
One girl, Ally Wakefield, is seen crying out in pain and asked the coach several times to “please, stop.”
Three days after the incident, the girl’s mother, Kirsten Wakefield, took a photo showing her daughter suffered bruises.
Kirsten Wakefield said she notified school officials in June, but no action was taken. Police launched their investigation Wednesday. A child abuse crime detective is leading the investigation.
In a letter to East High School parents, DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg said principal Andy Mendelsberg, assistant principal Lisa Porter, cheer coach Ozell Williams, assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis and DPS deputy general counsel Michael Hickman have been placed on leave during the investigation.
“We absolutely prohibit any practices that place our students’ physical and mental health in jeopardy,” Boasberg wrote. “We do not and will not allow any situation in which a student is forced to perform an activity or exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop.”
Warning: The video is graphic in nature.
A medical doctor and a sports psychologist watched the video and then talked about the impact from physical and mental standpoints.
Boasberg released a new statement about the situation Thursday night. Scroll down to read the full statement.
“We have sent notification to our athletic directors emphasizing that DPS does not allow the use of ‘forced splits’ or any other activity that puts a student’s physical or mental health at risk, or in which a student is forced to perform an exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop,” Boasberg said in the statement.
“I want to reiterate that this applies not just to athletics, but throughout our school communities. …”
“We know how deeply concerned our community is about the events that took place. We are reviewing the supports and resources currently in place for both students and educators, and we will propose additional efforts to ensure our school communities are educated about, and empowered to prevent, traumatic situations such as those depicted in the videos of East cheer practice.
“We are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all our students, at East High School and throughout Denver Public Schools.”