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Educational lesson: Perception is truth

“There is no truth. There is only perception.” — Gustave Flaubert, French novelist

The Churchill County School District continues to struggle with its communication process, especially when reacting to crises management.

Case in point: CCSD administration botched the handling of a coaching assignment involving Mitch Overlie and the spin that followed.

The district always savors the opportunity to isolate themselves rather than being proactive. As one person who follows the school district said, “The district always circles the wagons and shoots inward.”

During Overlie’s tenure as wrestling coach, a hazing incident occurred in Las Vegas in December 2010 when the team traveled to southern Nevada to participate in a tournament. The incident was despicable, and as a result of more than three years of wrangling, the school district settled in federal court with the family for more than $700,000.

The LVN reported the outcome of the settlement two weeks ago today, and on the following day, the district sent an email to Overlie to meet with the district’s attorney, Sharla Hales. About 90 minutes before the school board meeting, she informed the popular coach he was not going to serve as an assistant track coach.

The school district underestimated the public reaction and was surprised that the LVN called Hales to ask about Overlie’s suspension from coaching. Perception: Was Hales hoping the issue would just blow away into the westerly winds?

Timing is everything, and the district’s email and meeting with Overlie the day after our news story broke could be perceived as retribution. Additionally, the district did not inform the high school’s athletic director, and he had to wait for an “official” email that was sent to him by the school district the day after Overlie’s meeting with Hales.

The superintendent then told the LVN that the decision not to have Overlie coach this spring came from the school board. That is not totally correct, either. The superintendent, the school board president and one or two trustees set the agenda. The athletic director recommended Overlie to coach, so why did the group remove Overlie’s name from the coaching list and not have the entire school board act upon the athletic director’s recommendation with a thumbs up or thumbs down decision?

Years ago, the school board faced a recommendation to remove two coaches from their respective sports. It was done in a public forum with attendees having the opportunity to speak in favor or against the coaches.

The school district said this is not a lifetime ban although those familiar with Overlie’s situation say that’s misleading. Who’s to say if Overlie applies next school year to coach wrestling that he won’t have his name stricken from the list? Will the same people review coaching recommendations next fall and winter and — “oops” — leave off his name as they did for this go-around?

We’re disappointed in how the school district handled this situation because already, social media is abuzz with people preparing to attend Thursday’s school board meeting.

So, with that in mind and with some backlash occurring from the decision, how can the school district avoid a similar situation?

The administration must take ownership — something like Harry S. Truman’s “the buck stops here” — and be forthright.

In dealing with personnel matters involving coaches, include the athletic director in the process. Why did Hales meet with Overlie and not the superintendent or athletic director? Not doing so shows a perception CCSD had something to hide and ramrodded this personnel matter.

These are issues best for the school board; after all, they represent the constituents of Churchill County.

Don’t rely on Hales for public relations guidance. She is an attorney, and if she made the decision to meet with Overlie the day after the LVN article came out, then perception shows she goofed on PR strategy. If anything, those in management positions should take a course in communication skills in dealing with sensitive situations.

Be prepared to take the lead role in making controversial announcements rather than hiding behind “I can’t comment” or “I don’t know.” That damages credibility.

What people see or hear is considered gospel despite the best or worst intentions of the school district.

And remember … There is no truth. There is only perception ….

Editorials written by the LVN Editorial Board appear on Wednesdays.