By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4) – Former East High School Principal Andy Mendelsberg says he and his staff acted appropriately and quickly when the cheer squad scandal broke open in August.
“I feel comfortable we did what we should have done. I would never want kids to be hurt. That’s not who I am and I would not allow it,” Mendelsberg told CBS4’s Brian Maass.
In an emotional interview, Mendelsberg defended his actions, recounting what he did as soon as he received the disturbing cheer videos from a parent on June 15.
The videos showed cheer coach Ozell Williams forcing cheer team members to do painful side splits that caused them to cry out in pain.
“What are we doing?” Mendelsberg said he wondered after seeing the videos for the first time.
“I wanted to put an end to it as quickly as possible.”
Within 24 hours, Mendelsberg had notified Denver Public Schools’ human resources department, had spoken by phone with DPS attorney Michael Hickman, touched base with his immediate superior, ordered the coach to cease the side split exercise and had spoken twice with the cheer parent who sent him the videos.
He set up a meeting for the following day — June 16 — with the cheer parent and other East personnel. That next day, June 16, Mendelsberg met for a short time with his supervisor, Assistant Superintendent Sean Precious and informed him of the brewing controversy. After that, Mendelsberg and five other East employees met with the cheer parent who had shared the videos. Mendelsberg also called a second cheer parent who was concerned about methods being used by the cheer coach.
“I don’t know that we did anything wrong. We responded immediately, set up a meeting, talked to the family, the coach. We put out a directive to the coach we would no longer be doing this stretch, we put together an action plan for our coach to improve his work. We went up the chain of command at DPS. I talked to the HR rep, I talked to legal. We sent a summary of that meeting. I keep going back to, ‘Did we act timely?’ We did. ‘Did we stop anything that would jeopardize students?’ We did. I feel comfortable we did what we should have done.”
Mendelsberg said when he informed the DPS attorney of the incident, “I described the video clearly to him. They were aware of the video. It wasn’t requested of me. They never asked for the video.”
Mendelsberg said his efforts to address the situation continued through the summer but when the disturbing videos were released to the media in August, DPS administrators faulted him.
At a September news conference announcing the results of a DPS commissioned investigation into the cheer controversy, Superintendent Tom Boasberg said, “East High school principal Andy Mendelsberg and athletic director Lisa Porter did not take sufficient steps to ensure that the physical and emotional safety and well-being of the students on the East High school cheer team were fully protected.”
Porter resigned that week and Mendelsberg retired.
The district investigation noted Mendelsberg failed to interview cheer students, failed to ensure incident reports were filed and did not alert other cheer parents to the existence of the videos. The district investigation also indicated Mendelsberg failed to follow up on various other fronts.
“I’m disappointed,” said Mendelsberg. “I just want to be clear we did not ignore this situation. We took it very seriously. We took a lot of steps to ensure safety and we acted immediately and we continued to follow up.”
Mendelsberg, 49, said he hopes he can again work with students and make a positive impact, although his future is unclear.
During the interview, he said he was “humbled” by the support he had received from the East High school community.
“I think I’ve been clear about my love for that school and community. I hope they know how much I loved them. I’m disappointed. I’m sitting here talking today and I should be sitting at East High School.”
Read the investigative report commissioned by DPS here.