The suspension (with pay) of Liberty Bell High School boys’ basketball coach Nate Chrastina in January has, not surprisingly, stirred up a lot of community emotions and support for an apparently popular coach. That has happened elsewhere in the country and could be expected in any community with a high level of interest and involvement. There is often a unique bond between coaches and their players that parents appreciate.
The details surrounding the Chrastina suspension are a bit murky and difficult to verify, given the versions of events that we have heard. The Methow Valley School District is largely constrained from discussing them in detail while an investigation into the suspension continues. Yes, that’s frustrating, but there’s nothing to be done about it. In the absence of complete explanations, the information vacuum has been filled with a swirl of rumors, accusations and lamentations ranging from the irrelevant up to the absurd.
Meanwhile, an issue that is supposed to be about protections for student athletes has been hijacked by some agitated adults who seemingly want it to be about them. That’s an unnecessary distraction from what the community should be focused on.
So let’s be clear: The undisputed, overarching issue is COVID, and how the district is working to protect students, staff and the extended community from the coronavirus. That is the context for everything else. The Methow Valley School District, which must follow a number of state guidelines and other directives to continue educating its students, has taken COVID seriously with the best interests of students in staff in mind, even as some district residents continue to wrongly resist masks, vaccinations and other pandemic countermeasures that have been repeatedly proven to work. There is no responsible argument that can be made against the district’s measures. That hasn’t prevented irresponsible arguments, some of which we are hearing again related to the Chrastina suspension.
Have there been lapses in the district’s protocols? To be sure. Nobody can stay on top of everything all the time, despite best intentions, and the Methow tends toward being less confrontational than some other communities.
All that said, there’s no question that while it’s likely a majority of the community generally supports the school district, enough questions have been raised to erode the trust some other district residents might have in our public schools.
What the district can do to help alleviate that is provide absolute transparency about the process itself — what is supposed to happen, in what sequence, in what time frame. If the process itself is seen by some to be flawed or shortchanged, its findings will be questioned no matter what the outcome. Like any other district employee, Chrastina is entitled to a fair, complete and credible assessment.
Currently, the investigation of Chrastina’s suspension is being handled internally. It might be wise for the district to instead hand off the investigation to an independent third party that could operate without the appearance of a possible bias. In some people’s minds, internal investigations are always suspicious. Reducing some of that suspicion might cool things off a bit.
This is not an easy story to report amid the welter of emotions and the paucity of hard-core facts. We are focusing our reporting on what can be verified in the public record including official reports, which carry with them accountability by the reporting organization be it the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office or the school district. We’re not going to dignify rumors or third-hand accounts unless we can independently verify their source and corroborate the information. We are all about attribution and evidence. That’s not going to satisfy some readers who will accuse us of only listening to “official” sources while ignoring “the real story.”
We’re also trying to contact others with knowledge of related actions and events in the community, but such reporting takes time, persistence and the willingness to follow up on information leads. That’s what we do — sometimes it directs us somewhere, sometimes we hit dead ends. But we will continue to pursue the story where it legitimately takes us.
Meantime, let’s remember that it’s really all about the kids. They need to believe that they are being educated in a safe environment, and they need to see that the grown-ups are behaving like, well, grown-ups.