At a crowded Dolores School Board meeting on Sept. 14, several people brought complaints about the district’s athletic director and football coach, Chris Trusler.
About six parents and grandparents spoke during the public comment period about what they said was unethical behavior on Trusler’s part during a Sept. 8 football game at Dolores High School. In addition to his position as athletic director, Trusler coaches the high school football team. Parents said he had called players offensive names and asked one boy to keep playing after he was injured.
Several parents said the Sept. 8 incidents were part of an ongoing pattern, and complained that coaches were not being held accountable for their actions. Ranette Karo, who claimed Trusler had insulted her son during the game, said she has heard that several other students had similar experiences.
“Unfortunately, we don’t feel that this is an isolated incident,” she said in a prepared statement to the board. “After speaking with many parents and community members, it is clear that this intimidation and bully-like behavior is ... affecting so much more than just the football team. It’s having an effect on the entire school.”
Some parents, including Karo, said they previously brought their concerns to Trusler, Superintendent Scott Cooper and other school staff but felt that the district had not done enough to address them.
Earlier in the week, Karo had sent an email to Trusler, Cooper and High School Principal Jen Hufman, in which she gave more details about the Sept. 8 incident as well as others in the past. She said Trusler had called her son a number of slurs and expletives after a minor mistake. She also said Trusler had allowed her son to go to practice without being cleared by a doctor after he was hit in the head at a Sept. 1 game and “blacked out.” Karo claimed her son refused to go to the emergency room for several days for fear he would look “weak” in front of his coach. The Colorado High School Activities Association bylaws require students to receive written permission from a medical professional before returning to play after a head trauma.
This is Trusler’s second year as athletic director, and his fifth year coaching football at Dolores, according to Cooper. Several parents said they appreciated the work Trusler has done for the district’s athletic program, even as they asked the board to work harder at keeping him accountable.
“He’s a great coach,” one parent, Deanna Sullivan, said. “There’s things I’ve seen that he’s done that are great, for both of my kids.”
But she asked the board through tears to find a way to discipline teachers, as well as students, if they bully others.
Although only six people spoke during the public comment section, about 40 people attended the meeting, including parents, students and several of the candidates running for school board positions in the upcoming election.
Board members thanked everyone who spoke and said they would take their comments under consideration.
“They’re valid concerns,” board member Deanna Truelsen said.
Later in the meeting, board members agreed to add an executive session to a special meeting they had scheduled for Sept. 25 to discuss the latest fiscal year audit. The executive session, members said, would deal with personnel matters connected to the issues parents brought up on Thursday. Cooper would not say whether he had received complaints about Trusler before the Sept. 8 game, or what action the board might take to address the parents’ concerns. He said the district regularly “evaluate(s) staff structure” throughout the year to find out how to better serve students.
Trusler has not returned The Journal’s telephone calls to comment about the complaints.
Karo and Shelly Purkat, another parent who spoke at the meeting, said Trusler did not coach the Dolores team in its home game on Sept. 15 against Dolores Huerta Prep. Nowlin said he didn’t assign an extra deputy to the game, although an on-duty mounted patrol deputy was present. Under substitute head coach Ray Davis, the Dolores varsity football team won the game 39-8.
Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin also addressed the board at the beginning of the meeting, asking its members to consider paying some of the overtime costs for a deputy to monitor the school during football and other games. He mentioned that the school resource officer was called to respond to a fight that occurred between several students in the high school parking lot during the Sept. 8 game. Cooper said the district has paid for extra patrols during sporting events in the past, and the board would consider doing so again this year.
The board approved three community donations to Dolores football and athletics later in the meeting, for a total of $1,300.