Coach’s wife asked to leave game
In the weeks since the Methow Valley School District suspended the varsity boys’ basketball coach, community reaction has included incidents that district staff say are a distraction from education and from the success of student athletes.
The incidents included a protest on the district campus by as many as 25 people during school hours, and a parent — the wife of the suspended coach — being removed by an Okanogan County Sheriff’s Deputy from a basketball game at the Liberty Bell High School gym on Feb. 1.
“I won’t comment on a particular individual situation or continue to allow focus to be on the wrong part of the basketball game,” wrote Methow Valley Supt. Tom Venable, in response to questions from the Methow Valley News.” The attention should be on our student-athletes — particularly our seniors.”
Nate Chrastina, in his first year as Liberty Bell’s head boys’ basketball coach, was placed on paid leave in mid-January after the district reportedly received an anonymous complaint that he allegedly violated the school’s COVID-19 mask policy.
Chrastina earlier told the Methow Valley News that a person reported that he and some boys on the team were not wearing masks properly in the school’s weight room on Jan. 15. According to the school district, the suspension with pay started on Jan. 16 and is effective through the end of the basketball season. District staff are investigating the report. The district is not commenting on the ongoing investigation or giving a timeline for its completion.
Assistant coach Ryan Surface has since assumed head coaching responsibilities. Some Liberty Bell basketball players who are still on the team, and some who are not, have been wearing black T-shirts with the inscription “Free coach,” referring to Chrastina’s suspension.
On Jan. 27, Nate Chrastina reportedly addressed the Methow Valley School District Board of Directors about the suspension. The board’s meetings are not recorded and minutes of the Jan. 27 meeting will not be available until after the board’s Feb. 17 meeting, according to the district. It is not known how complete the minutes will be.
Chrastina did not respond to a request for information and comments on his remarks to the board, or to other issues related to this article.
Protest on campus
Rumors have circulated in the community reflecting frustration over the suspension, particularly the details leading up to the district’s action related to the coach and its subsequent silence on the investigation process. Some of that frustration apparently came to a head at about 11 a.m. Wednesday (Feb. 2) when a group of protesters gathered at the school district’s buildings.
Venable sent an email to parents soon after the protest, saying that staff became aware of the situation and met the protesters outside the school.
Venable told the Methow Valley News that Liberty Bell High School staff directed the group to an area in the “northwestern corner” of the parking lot and asked them to stay in that location. Liberty Bell Principal Crosby Carpenter told the group that they were not to come into the buildings, or the school would “call the authorities,” Venable said.
In videos posted to social media, the group of adults and children can be seen gathering in one of the district’s parking lots chanting “We support the Chrastinas,” and carrying a variety of signs, some critical of mask mandates.
At about 11:45 a.m., the group reportedly left the designated area and walked from the high school to the elementary school and toward the district office, eventually returning to the high school parking lot. They never entered a building, Venable said.
The district operates on an early release schedule on Wednesdays, and protesters were still on campus when students were released.
“The protesters were reported to be waving the American Flag, holding up signs and chanting while students were released,” Venable wrote to the Methow Valley News. “Given the presence of the protesters, many students and parents expressed confusion and frustration by their presence in front of the school. … One student reported a young man holding a sign, ‘hurling obscenities at a student.’”
Some students requested escorts to their vehicles, and other students were escorted by staff to their buses.
“As a public school that, like its community, reflects a wide and diverse range of beliefs and honors action-oriented citizenship, we also take the responsibility of ensuring the safety and welfare of our students, as well as the academic integrity of the instructional day seriously,” Venable wrote to parents. “We ask that others, parents, community members, and action-oriented groups alike, assist us in doing the same. As such, we strongly encourage individuals and groups seeking changes to the current mandates required of public schools to direct your comments and feedback to your state leaders and legislative representatives.”
On Jan. 18, two days after Nate Chrastina was suspended, his wife, Sarah Chrastina, called the county’s 911 line to complain of her husband’s suspension for alleged mask violations and asked about “constitutional issues.”
The 911 line is intended to be used only for emergency reports about medical problems or the need for a quick law enforcement response.
“She said her husband was ‘protesting’ his suspension by not honoring or accepting pay with suspension,” according to the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office report. “She wanted to know what the sheriff’s stand was on 4th Amendment rights.”
Chrastina was directed to Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley on questions about Sheriff’s Office policy.
The 4th Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
The next in the series of incidents occurred at a home basketball game on Tuesday (Feb. 1).
According to 911 logs, at about 7 p.m. that evening the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Liberty Bell High School gym after receiving a report of a woman “with a history of intimidation and bullying and harassment” being “verbally combative” and refusing to leave after she was asked.
The woman involved was identified as Sarah Chrastina in the Sheriff’s Office’s report on the incident, obtained by the Methow Valley News through a public records request.
The report gives an account of the incident from the responding deputy’s point of view.
Deputy Ted Shook wrote that he arrived about 10 minutes after the initial 911 call and met the caller — Liberty Bell High School Principal Crosby Carpenter — who asked that Chrastina be removed from the building.
Shook’s report also notes that Sheriff’s Office files included a note from Chief Criminal Deputy Laura Wright that Sarah Chrastina had been “suspended” by the district from attending home athletic competitions for “not following rules.”
A few minutes later, Shook approached Chrastina and asked her to come down from the stands and talk with him. He wrote in his report that he recorded his involvement on his body-worn camera, which he turned on after Chrastina began recording the incident on her phone.
“I then informed her she was being asked to leave and if she refused she could be charged with trespassing,” Shook wrote. He added that she began arguing with him about whether or not she could be charged.
That particular exchange, lasting about 30 seconds, was posted in a video to Facebook later in the week. In that video, in which the camera is facing Shook, the deputy can be seen asking Chrastina to walk out of the gym with him.
At one point, she can be heard saying, “You’re harassing me right now and violating my rights by telling me I need to leave a public place without any proof.”
Shook offered to call Wright, the chief deputy, and have her talk with Chrastina, and Chrastina agreed to exit the building to talk with Wright. Wright confirmed the district had barred Sarah Chrastina from the gym and that she needed to leave.
Venable said he couldn’t comment on the specific incident, but said the district follows a process for responding to noncompliance with COVID-guidelines applying to everyone.
“Generally speaking, in the unfortunate event that an individual acts egregiously or repeatedly fails to comply with the district’s policies and COVID guidelines, placing the health and wellness of others in attendance at risk, the district responds to such incidents using a progression of action, much in the way we do with students,” Venable wrote to the Methow Valley News. “This may include law enforcement.”
Eventually Chrastina agreed to leave after Shook provided her with copies of the state laws in question, the deputy reported. The next morning, Sarah Chrastina called 911 to report that Carpenter had “harassed” her by asking her to leave the gym, and she accused the district of “false reporting.”
The Methow Valley School District follows guidelines from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and the state Department of Health, which is required for all public school districts in the state.
For more information on these requirements, go to https://wiaa.com or https://tinyurl.com/5n97rxmv.