Pine Tree ISD Board Takes No Action at Monday Meeting Regarding AD/Football Coach Derek Fitzhenry [VIDEO]
LONGVIEW -- After 5 1/2 hours of Monday night's Pine Tree ISD school board meeting, the 30 or so people remaining at the administration building knew no more about the fate of athletic director and head football coach Derek Fitzhenry than they did before.
Pine Tree school board president Charley Peck told reporters after the meeting's adjournment around 11:15 p.m. that the board had made a recommendation to PTISD Superintendent T.J. Farler and the ball was now in her court.
Tuesday could bring some clarity to the situation.
"As a personnel matter, we can't discuss it," Farler said, "and tomorrow (Tuesday) I will simply carry out the directions that the board has given me. That's all I can tell you."
Asked by ETSN.fm if the timetable for a final decision was Tuesday, Farler added, "To begin carrying out what the board has directed me to do."
The district placed Fitzhenry on administrative leave this past Thursday after reports surfaced that he allegedly shoved a student trainer at halftime of the Pirates' season-opening 42-38 home win against Van on Aug. 30. No details of the alleged incident have been confirmed publicly and district employees have been told to not speak on the matter.
Monday's board meeting -- which featured two separate executive sessions, the second of which lasted from around 7:45 to 11:10 p.m. -- saw dozens of people attend with what appeared to be a relatively even split in support of and against Fitzhenry based on reactions from the public commenting portion of the evening.
With instructions to not use specific names, three people were given the opportunity to speak on the matter (another spoke, but to an unrelated matter). Two of those three -- Cindy Russell and senior football player Bryndin Hartman -- spoke in support of Fitzhenry.
"The greater good of our students is of utmost importance. Changing direction every few years does not allow a chance for changes to take hold," Russell said. "As humans we all make mistakes, and thankfully we have grace to see us through."
"Instead of looking on the negative aspects that our coach may or may not have done, I'd like to look at the positive things he's done," Hartman said. "He's brought a football team that hasn't had any fellowship ... he's brought us together as a family."
Gregg County Assistant District Attorney Debbie Garrett spoke from the contrary perspective.
Garrett opened by saying she came to speak as a concerned parent and alumna.
"I am also coming tonight to speak on behalf of others who have expressed a reluctance to come or even to be seen because they're concerned that their children will be retaliated against should the board decide to stay with the status quo," Garrett said. "I want to remind you that you ran and were elected to make these difficult decisions, even when those decisions may not be perceived as what is popular.
"Your actions, your decisions ... teach students what we value, whether it is integrity or whether it is a win-loss column. ... As a board, you may not be responsible for the actions that have occurred over the last few days or months, but you are responsible legally and ethically for what happens from here."
Pine Tree's football team won 64-49 at Center this past Friday with offensive coordinator Derrick Hennigan as acting head coach. The win pushed the Pirates, who host Class 3A No. 5 Kilgore this Friday, to 2-0.
Pine Tree, which was 1-9 in 2011 and 2-7 in 2012, is 5-16 since Fitzhenry arrived from his previous head coaching job in Giddings.