GREENWICH — An investigator with the state Department of Children and Families has cleared Greenwich High School rugby coach Joe Kelly and assistant coaches of claims made against them.
“Abuse or neglect has not been substantiated as a result of this investigation,” read a DCF document sent to Kelly and the school district this week.
The coaches remain suspended until school administrators complete an internal investigation, school officials said. Kelly and several of his assistant coaches were suspended by school officials in response to the DCF investigation.
The DCF letter did not specify the nature of the allegations or their source. But Kelly has said the claims accused coaches of drinking with players on a tournament trip and leaving players unsupervised.
Kelly has vehemently denied the accusations, and several parents, including those who were on the trip, have said they were not true.
Rugby parent Dawn Stevens on Friday said she felt relieved to hear the news. “It was nerve-wracking to wait that long to hear the conclusion,” she said. “We could tell them (coaches were innocent) if we had the chance.”
Stevens said the coaches’ actions on the trip aligned with the protocol demanded of educators.
“Naturally, I had no doubt all of them would be cleared,” she said. “By being around the situation, I found the claims being made against them were unfounded. Knowing their character, I couldn’t imagine the outcome be any different.”
But the waiting game continues for the coaches, players and family members, however, as the school system conducts its investigation.
Human Resources Officer for Greenwich Public Schools Robert Stacy said he could not comment on questions related to an open investigation — including how long it will take.
“The district has not yet made any determinations regarding this matter,” Stacy said. State law requires the district to give the DCF priority, Stacy said. With the DCF investigation done, the school district can conduct its own, he said.
Stevens said the parents of graduated and rising captains are at a loss on how to proceed while the coaches remain benched. Rugby season does not start until March, but parents begin working to support the program long before then, she said.
One year-round job is fundraising for the team’s travels.
“Because of this incident, I hope the traveling doesn’t get shut down by the administration,” she said. “If we’re not allowed to go to these events, our program will suffer.”
The suspension jeopardized the year-round communication between coaches and players as well as the summer tournaments, Stevens said.
“It was unnecessary,” she said. “If it could have stayed within Greenwich Public Schools, maybe it would have been resolved faster.”
The DCF letter caps a series of events dating back to the Rugby State Championships held in Kansas City, Mo., at the end of May. Kelly and his fellow coaches reportedly found a student in violation of a school code. Kelly has not specified which rule the teenager broke, but several sources have said the student was drinking.
The coaches suspended the player for the rest of the season and notified the Greenwich High athletic department. The disciplinary measure angered the player’s parent, who according to several sources vowed to “take down the program.”
Kelly said he heard nothing from the athletic department about the matter until he received his suspension notice from administrators on June 12 — the day he received the Greenwich Old Timers Athletic Association lifetime achievement award.
The coaches have met with attorneys and local politicians to discuss ways of changing legislation regarding suspensions of educators going forward, Kelly said.
“We want to help coaches and teachers so they don’t get put into this long-term suspension and this awkward situation and the uncomfortable uncertainty of what people think you have or have not done,” he said.