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Principal Retires After Investigation Into Cheerleader ‘Forced Splits’

By Melissa Garcia

DENVER (CBS4) – After a month-long investigation into “forced splits” at East High School, attorneys determined that school officials did not do enough to protect cheerleaders from physical and emotional harm.

Tom Boasberg, Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, announced Friday that East High School Principal Andy Mendelsberg has decided to retire following the district investigation findings.

Cell phone videos of then-coach Ozell Williams pushing down Cheerleaders into painful extended splits positions sparked national controversy.

cheerleader forced splits Principal Retires After Investigation Into Cheerleader Forced Splits

(credit: Kirsten Wakefield)

The announcement that Mendelsberg is stepping down is one that supporters, who rallied Friday outside D.P.S. headquarters, did not want to hear.

“He is the spirit of East High School,” said Emily Solomon, the mother of an East High student. “It is a different place without him.”

“Bring Andy back,” protesters chanted.

Mendelsberg was one of five school staff members placed on leave in August after the release of the videos.

Parents, who initially complained in June, said that school leaders failed to take action until August, when the district fired Williams.

Lisa Porter, who was the school’s Assistant Principal and Athletic Director, submitted her resignation earlier this week, Boasberg said.

“The concerns raised by parents were not limited to the forced splits exercises at cheer practice. But rather, they included concerns that Coach Williams had bullied and humiliated cheer team members during practice and had forced injured girls to practice,” Boasberg added.

Boasberg vowed that moving forward, school employees would undergo further training on mandatory reporting of safety concerns.

east hs cheerleaders 6pkg transfer frame 1579 Principal Retires After Investigation Into Cheerleader Forced Splits

Tom Boasberg (credit: CBS)

Parents and students who attended Friday’s protest felt that the district had placed unnecessary blame on Mendelsberg.

“I feel like he got thrown under the bus,” said Clay Swanson, a junior at East High School. “It wasn’t really his fault what happened. And now they need someone to blame so they’re blaming him.”

“He has the full support of the faculty, the students, the parents. And we just really don’t want to see him get used as a scapegoat for this,” said Mike Cohen, another parent of an East High student.

east hs cheerleaders 6pkg transfer frame 131 Principal Retires After Investigation Into Cheerleader Forced Splits

(credit: CBS)

“I just don’t think the East community will be the same without Andy,” said Janine Cruz, an East High alumna who attended the protest.

Boasberg said that assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis had been in a volunteer position and was not present during the forced splits exercises, and would  still be free to seek D.P.S. employment.

The district took corrective action against school attorney Michael Hickman, who will be re-instated, Boasberg said.

A Denver Police spokesman said the police investigation into the case was ongoing.

Melissa Garcia has been reporting for CBS4 News since March 2014. Find her bio here, follow her on Twitter @MelissaGarciaTV, or send your story idea to mkgarcia@cbs.com.

 

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