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Charges against a volunteer assistant volleyball coach raise plenty of questions.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
One of the most talked-about people in the city of Salem these days is Dewayne Barger, a former volleyball coach at Salem High School. Given the gist of the story, it's easy to understand why.
Salem police arrested Barger on March 22. He's charged with four counts of possessing child pornography and four counts of producing it.
The charges stem from a pen video camera that an acquaintance of Barger turned over to police. In court documents, police said they found covertly recorded images of nude and apparently underage girls bathing, and images of other underage girls trying on volleyball uniforms.
Salem police said the videos were recorded in Barger's apartment on Red Lane Extension, where he lived from 2011 to 2012.
Why were underage girls bathing in his apartment? What are the circumstances surrounding the other images? Those questions haven't yet been answered. But the notions they conjure are skin-crawlingly creepy.
Even more eyebrow-raising is this: Other girl volleyball players unrelated to the investigation say they reported Barger for inappropriate behavior as far back as 2007.
Yet Barger continued to coach girls' volleyball - as a volunteer assistant at Salem High until 2011, for a time at Eastern Montgomery High during 2012, and as the assistant director of a travel team until just before his arrest.
One girl we know of who felt uncomfortable with Barger's behavior was Madeline Aliff, a 2009 graduate of Salem High School. Her eye-popping story was told by reporter Zach Crizer in this newspaper on March 28.
Barger was a volunteer assistant when Aliff played on Salem High's JV volleyball team. She told this paper that in 2007 he used to text her about personal things, including her then-boyfriend. She said he often texted dinner invitations to her.
Aliff said that one night in November 2007, around her 16th birthday, Barger showed up at her house when she was alone and gave her $200 worth of birthday gifts.
After the school became aware of this, Aliff said she met at least three times with school staff and/or administrators. Her mother attended the third meeting, which was in late in 2007 or early in 2008. A concerned parent of another volleyball player was also at the latter meeting, Aliff said.
The Aliffs believed Barger's behavior was inappropriate, and it's hard to blame them for feeling that way.
Because he was an unpaid volunteer assistant coach, Salem school authorities could have bounced Barger at any time, for any reason. That didn't happen, however.
Salem officials say Barger had passed a background check in 2006 that turned up no red flags and that he coached there as a volunteer assistant until 2011.
Did the school system take any other action after the complaints by Aliff? That's unclear. When I asked that question, Superintendent Alan Seibert responded:
"Personnel matters are confidential. Student records are confidential. We will honor the confidentiality of the children, the families we serve, and staff even when violating that trust could conceivably be beneficial from a media-relations perspective."
Until shortly before his arrest, Barger coached girls volleyball for NRV Juniors, a travel team. Kevin DeGidio of Salem told this paper that when his daughter was on that team, Barger sent her incessant late-night texts about his personal life.
DeGidio said that more than a year ago he reported this stuff to the team director and the league's governing body, Old Dominion Region Volleyball. The team and the league denied that DiGidio had complained.
DeGidio said the NRV Juniors kicked his daughter off the team after his complaints. The team retained Barger until the cops showed up and began questioning the team director shortly before Barger's arrest.
After his arrest, Salem schools conducted an administrative review.
In announcing the review, Salem spokesman Mike Stevens told this paper "in hindsight we certainly regret that this individual ever worked with our student-athletes."
Stevens also said: "the unfortunate reality is that even with background checks, something like this can happen anywhere, and that is what's most concerning and what requires a purposeful review of policies and procedures."
Seibert said the only thing he could disclose from the review is that Salem schools intend to implement a policy pertaining to one-on-one texting.
"We want transparency. We want to establish a level of transparency with texting," he was quoted in this newspaper last Sunday.
I asked if any school employees had been disciplined or reprimanded or counseled as a result of the administrative review.
Seibert responded: "An administrative review is a personnel matter and is therefore confidential."
But don't let that lead you to believe the schools are barred by law from releasing such information.
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act gives government agencies the option of withholding personnel information. It doesn't require it. Salem schools have opted for nondisclosure.
If no employees were disciplined in any way, you'd think Seibert would feel comfortable saying so. If some were counseled or reprimanded, he could say that, too, without revealing any names.
What seems most striking is that Salem schools - where the proud mottos are "Children First" and "Every Child, Every Day" - didn't ditch their relationship with Dewayne Barger back in 2008.
If Aliff's complaint back then didn't constitute a red flag, what does it take?
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