Football, and especially winning football, speaks loudly in American public schools. So it is perhaps not surprising that the Provo School District's decision to suspend Timpview High School's football coach with the intent to terminate him has met with loud resistance.
Many parents packed a public meeting late last year in support of coach Louis Wong when rumors first circulated that he may be disciplined. On Monday, about 150 students walked out of class in protest of the suspension.
In this country, winning often conflicts with the ideals of American public education, which have to do with equal opportunities and fairness. Wong led his teams to four state championships. But his subsequent fundraising efforts for a weight-training facility caught the eyes of state auditors, as have a number of other unusual practices involving the coach and others at the school. Any money raised through donations to the school becomes public money, as a recent Utah State Office of Education audit points out. It is therefore subject to a host of rules and regulations. The school apparently began building the weight facility without the approval of the district, which owns the property.
School officials would do well to use this as a teaching moment for angry students. The lesson should be that facts must trump emotions in a nation governed by laws. The district's investigation of the audit's findings must be allowed to proceed. The coach should be given ample opportunity to defend himself, as he will if he appeals his suspension. The students who walked out seemed to be saying the opposite, that the investigation should be suspended because of their feelings for the coach.
Of course, such lessons would be easier with the support of parents.
Several days ago, we called on the state school board to make the audit public. To its credit, the board did. The audit's allegations are serious and, unless they can be successfully explained and refuted, demand disciplinary action. They include evidence the coach charged the school for repairs to his personal vehicles, that he solicited and accepted personal compensation from Under Armour clothing; that travel was done without pre-authorization, that assistant coaches were hired without background checks, that money was missing from accounts used for the collection of student fees paid by players and that rules were not followed for various reimbursements for personal expenditures. The allegations reach beyond the football program, and the district investigation may result in others being disciplined.
The issue here isn't touchdowns. It's public funds, which belong to all taxpayers within the Provo School District. The audit's allegations are serious and should be thoroughly vetted.