Board refuses to hear comments about Dinota - Tucson Local Media: Import

Board refuses to hear comments about Dinota

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Posted: Tuesday, April 18, 2006 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:52 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

April 19, 2006 - About 100 parents and students from Ironwood Ridge High School packed an Amphitheater school board meeting on April 11 in support of P.E. teacher Dee Dinota, only to be told they would not be allowed to address the board.

Dinota has been accused by Oro Valley police officer Dan Horetski of grabbing his buttocks during a Feb. 8 basketball playoff game between Ironwood Ridge and Canyon Del Oro High School in Marana.

In a Feb. 12 statement submitted to the district, Horetski said, "Dinota came up behind me and with both hands grabbed me on the buttocks and squeezed several times. I turned and looked at her as she stepped back in front of the (Ironwood Ridge) student fans. As I turned back to the CDO fans she came up a second time and repeated the above actions."

Horetski also said in his statement that following this action, Dinota grabbed her crotch and yelled, "Oh bite me."

Dinota was placed on paid administrative leave on March 6 while the district conducted an investigation, said Todd Jaeger, the district's attorney. The investigation ended on April 7, and Dinota returned to work for a day but then took a vacation until April 17, Jaeger said.

"Administrative leave is solely for the purpose where an investigation in necessary or where someone has pending criminal charges. With the investigation over, the administrative leave had to terminate," Jaeger said.

Jaeger would not disclose the results of the investigation or comment on possible action that may be taken against Dinota.

At the school board meeting, six students, teachers, and parents filled out requests to address the board, listing Dinota as the subject of their address. All were told by board President Kent Barrabee that the board does not allow members of the public to speak about district personnel during public comment.

"I can't recognize those who are here tonight, and I can't let you speak on this topic," Barrabee told the audience. "We have constraints by law on discussing teachers publicly because we are sometimes called upon to hear appeals and make unbiased decisions."

Barrabee said later that it was the first time in six years that he has had to stop someone from addressing a specific subject during public comment at a board meeting.

Rhonda Barnes, a First Amendment attorney with Perkins, Coie, Brown and Bain, said it is unlikely that the district's refusal to hear public comments about Dinota complies with free speech.

"For those individuals who wanted to speak, if they were to challenge it, the school district would have to prove a compelling interest, which is the hardest test to pass. Ninety-nine percent of the time you can't meet it," Barnes said. "It seems to me that they probably wouldn't be able to pass that test because it was content-based speech restriction, and that's antithetical to the First Amendment."

Many parents were furious after the school board's decision.

"I am appalled and surprised that we have not been allowed to speak," said Mary Snider, parent of an Ironwood High School student. "We're insisting on justice for a teacher. We wanted to ask them to move toward a resolution."

Kara Bauman, an Ironwood Ridge senior, is angry that the district's investigation dragged on for a month.

"This shouldn't have taken so long. You can't put something like this off. She's ill now and it's not fair," Bauman said.

Susan Williams, an English teacher at Ironwood Ridge who was not allowed to address the board, said the opacity of the district's investigation has left the school's teachers feeling vulnerable.

"We're afraid to be here. It's a pervasive feeling in the district. There's so little information, it makes us insecure," Williams said. "In Dee's case, it took five weeks for anything to happen."

Danny Sharp, Oro Valley police chief, said Horetski, a student resource officer at CDO, was told by district officials to submit his account of the incident with Dinota.

"His supervisor at the school asked him to submit his account of what occurred," Sharp said. "He didn't have a choice. He was told to write up a report."

Horetski said he did not file any sort of complaint to initiate the investigation into Dinota, but rather was told to write a report of the incident by CDO assistant principal David Thatcher.

"It's not my decision, and I'm not planning on filing an assault charge," Horetski said. "I didn't file a sexual harassment report, and I didn't try to get her fired."

Although Horetski said he has known Dinota since the sixth grade, Horetski said he was still offended by her actions at the basketball game.

"It was inappropriate behavior and I was bothered by it, certainly," Horetski said.

Thatcher said that although student resource officers are employees of the police department, he oversees the grant that puts them on the school campus.

"I'm like the liaison for the district on the grant, and that grant comes out of the district office," Thatcher said. "I was contacted by an administrator in the district about the situation and was told to talk to Officer Horetski and get the information from him."

Thatcher said that district administrator was Interscholastic Activities Director Mike Bejarano. Bejarano declined to comment for this story, including why he asked Thatcher for the report and whether he was instructed to do so by someone else in the district.

The EXPLORER obtained two videotapes of the Feb. 8 CDO - Ironwood Ridge basketball game where the incident occurred. One is an excerpt copy of the Ironwood Ridge game tape, and the other is the game in its entirety filmed by a parent of an Ironwood Ridge player.

The tapes were provided to the EXPLORER by a parent who said they were obtained from other parents. The parent wanted to make it clear that Dinota played no role in providing the tapes to the parent or the EXPLORER.

In the last few minutes of the game, Dinota appears in front of the stands full of cheering Ironwood Ridge students and fans and begins leading the fans in various cheers.

Soon after, Ironwood Ridge principal Sam McClung comes down out of the Ironwood Ridge stands and peers back at the students as if to monitor them, then joins Dinota who is now near center court along the sideline.

Adjacent to the Ironwood Ridge fans on the same side of the court are stands full of CDO fans who have similarly reached a fever pitch in the last minute of the one-point game.

By this point, Horetski can be seen standing near McClung and Dinota at center court monitoring the CDO fans. In the game, CDO blocked an Ironwood Ridge shot, and then fouled another shooter.

After the foul, Dinota can be seen coming up behind Horetski with her hands in the air, and appears to bump Horetski with her hip, as he can be seen moving a step.

Horetski then turns his head to the side and looks at Dinota with what appears to be an angry or annoyed expression on his face. He can also be seen saying something, apparently to Dinota, who had by then taken a few steps away.

When Horetski turns his head back to the CDO fans, Dinota comes back at him bent over and from behind with her hands out in front of her. However, neither videotape shows if or how Dinota made contact with Horetski's buttocks.

Horetski's statement that Dinota grabbed him once and then again a moment later doesn't appear on either videotape. However, Dinota and Horetski cannot be seen at all times during the 6 - 8 minutes in which both were standing in front of the stands at the end of the game.

Of the times they can be seen, the hip bump and when she approaches him bent over are the only time she interacts with Horetski.

McClung can be seen sitting in front of Horetski within a couple feet during the entire incident.

Josh Hyde, an Ironwood Ridge P.E. teacher, was standing next to Dinota and can clearly be seen on the videotape staring right at her when the incident occurred.

"She never grabbed his butt. That never happened, nor did she ever grab her crotch to the CDO crowd and say 'bite me,'" Hyde said. "I was there the whole time. That's completely ridiculous and it's a shame people would accuse a person of doing something like that didn't happen, especially with witnesses."

Hyde said Dinota's actions were simply the friendly taunts of an emphatic cheerleader.

"She came up behind him and kind of wiggled her shoulders and it was kind of like taunting, but it wasn't anything sexual at all. It was just taunting and goofing off and having a good time between their kids and our kids and just giving energy to the crowd. But not once did she grab his butt," Hyde said.

Horetski stuck to his previous statement when informed of Hyde's conflicting remarks. He also said he never said anything to Dinota.

Hyde said the accusations hurt not just Dinota, but her students as well.

"Her absence is an injustice to all the students in the P.E. department. They're missing out on a great teacher and a great leader," Hyde said.

Although the investigation is now over, Hyde said the district's investigator never interviewed him.

Horetski said the district's investigator in the case was equal opportunity specialist Jay McKenzie. McKenzie could not be reached for comment.

When students from schools across Tucson were walking out of schools to protest immigration reform proposals, a large group of Ironwood Ridge students walked out of school on March 31 and went to Dinota's house to protest her being put on leave and investigated.

"She is our school spirit. Without her, no one would care," said Kaileen Martin, an Ironwood Ridge junior.

Dinota has been a teacher in the Amphi District for more than 20 years, according to the Ironwood Ridge Web site. She coached the CDO softball team to a state championship in 2001, and has organized an annual shoe drive for underprivileged elementary school kids, collecting tens of thousands of pairs of athletic shoes over 14 years.

Dinota could not be reached for comment on this story.

Oro Valley Police Officer Jodi Brackett said in a March 6 written statement Dinota told her the contact with Horetski was minor.

"She proceeded to tell me that she only poked Dan in the butt and that she didn't understand why it was an issue as he wasn't even in uniform," Brackett said in the statement. "She proceeded to tell me that she could not lose her job over this and that her kids would be the ones suffering. She then said if she gets fired she would have 2000 Ironwood Ridge kids in front of the police department. I told her that I wished I could sympathize with her but that she did it. She then stated that if she gets fired over this Dan is dead."

That threat, which Brackett said was spoken by Dinota on March 6, prompted Brackett to file a report with the police department.

"For anybody to make a comment like that, and for us being police officers, we have to be aware of her frame of mind," Brackett said. "I've never heard her say something like that before about anyone."

Brackett said she became friends with Dinota while she was a student resource officer at CDO and later at IRHS, and Dinota even helped Brackett sell her house. Brackett said she has known Horetski for 11 years.

Brackett also included in her report a conversation she had with Dinota on Feb. 28 at a Wilson Middle School basketball game where Brackett told Dinota her behavior with Horetski was inappropriate.

"I tried to explain how her actions at the game were inappropriate as it was in front of all the spectators at the game. She told me that all she did was poke Dan in his sides and try to get him to smile. She did not mention any contact with his buttocks," Brackett said in her statement.

In an interview April 18, Brackett said Dinota has been blaming Horetski for her situation instead of herself.

"When she was telling me about what had happened, it was like she was justifying it in her mind," Brackett said. "She's not taking responsibility for what she did."

In a Feb. 16 e-mail from Dinota to Horetski, it is clear that she was surprised to find herself in trouble with the school district.

"Dan, I just got called into the principal's office for harassing you at the CDO game (touching you) I think that is the biggest bunch of crap. We have known each other forever, always thought we had an awesome relationship," Dinota said in the e-mail. "I think you blew this one way out of proportion."

Horetski said he did not respond to the e-mail.

Joe Hajek, athletic director for Marana High School where the CDO/Ironwood Ridge game was played, said he asked a group of Ironwood Ridge teachers at the game to keep the crowd under control.

"We wanted them to keep the students from rushing the court. That's a concern we've had since that student from Tucson High School was injured when a crowd rushed onto the court," Hajek said.

Tucson High School basketball player Joe Kay was paralyzed after being trampled by students rushing the court after a game in 2004.

McClung declined to comment on what he saw at the Feb. 8 game or any other part of the investigation of Dinota, citing legal restrictions that prevent him from commenting on school personnel under investigation.

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