Robinson High School girls basketball coach Traci Schneeweis, suspended Dec. 20 after parents complained that she was too aggressive and granted more playing time to personal favorites on the team, filed suit in U.S. District Court asking that she be immediately reinstated as coach and be awarded $2 million in damages from the Fairfax County School system.
Blair D. Howard, Schneeweis's attorney, said that the school system has repaid his client's hard work and integrity with shame and unfounded accusations. "Her basketball teams, through her leadership, have brought pride and honor to that school, and they've done just the opposite to her," said Howard. "They've created a cloud of suspicion around her."
Schneeweis, 33, has built a 103-35 career record in seven years at Robinson. Her teams improved each year, culminating with a Virginia AAA championship last season. Schneeweis's team, which was 3-0 at the time she was suspended with pay, is currently 15-2 under assistant principal Greg Coughan.
The four school administrators named in the suit -- Deputy Superintendent Rocky Jacobs, Assistant Superintendent Allen Leis, Principal William Jackson and School Board Chairman Kohann Whitney -- could not be reached for comment or refused to discuss the suit because they had not yet obtained a copy.
Howard said Jackson violated the school system's personnel policy when he failed to give Schneeweis written notification explaining her suspension. Schneeweis should also have been allowed to appeal her case to the school board, Howard said.
"If she's done something wrong, if there's any basis for her suspension, then tell us what it is and give us an opportunity to meet the people who have pointed a finger at her and confront them," he said.
But Deloris Bohen, spokeswoman for the Fairfax schools, said yesterday that county regulations do not require written notice or school board appeals when coaches or club sponsors are suspended.
The job as girls basketball coach "is not covered by our regulations. Principals can change coaches from one season to the next," said Bohen, adding that as a matter of professional courtesy a principal would usually explain to the teacher why he or she was being suspended.
Schneeweis's status has remained in limbo since the suspension as the school system awaited a report from the Department of Human Relations that was investigating complaints lodged by several parents.
Dan Jackson, head of Human Relations, said the report was delivered late Monday to Robinson's principal, but he would not discuss its conclusions.
"It's a thorough report," said Jackson. "In making reports, I analyze and if I feel there is a need, I make recommendations but they are only recommendations. In this case, there are several recommendations."
William Jackson said through a spokesman that he had not yet made a decision on whether to reinstate Schneeweis or to maintain the suspension. He said he would probably make a decision by the end of the week.
The girls basketball team has four regular season games remaining before regional playoffs begin March 5. Howard accused the school system of intentionally delaying its response to Schneeweis's request for a hearing "to avoid her coming back as coach before this basketball season has ended."
Sally Todd, executive director of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said yesterday that the debate surrounding Schneeweis is further illustration of how the school administration has grown increasingly reluctant to stand up against vocal parents who become "overly excited" or "overly protective."
"It's always easier to grease the squeaky wheel than it is to draw the line and say, 'We understand your concern, but we're sorry,' " said Todd, adding that Jackson appeared to be one of Schneeweis's staunchest supporters until the days before he told the coach that she was suspended indefinitely.
Todd also said that Schneeweis's success ironically may have fueled the emotional fires now mounting against her. Todd said parents are even more excited about their girls getting playing time if the team is a state champion enjoying a great deal of public attention.