By JOHN T. WARD
Five months after former Rumson-Fair Haven Regional football coach Bryan Batchler was cleared of criminal wrongdoing over alleged inappropriate contact with a student, several dozen supporters demanded Tuesday night that he be reinstated.
Batchler, who has been on paid administrative leave from teaching for eight months and was stripped of his coaching job in February, told redbankgreen that Superintendent Pete Righi is now trying to oust him, via a tenure-revocation case, from the job he’s held since 2008. Batchler and Jay Campbell after the meeting. Below, senior football captain Mike Ruane addresses the board. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
Batchler, 40, was put on paid administrative leave from his job teaching algebra and advanced-placement statistics last December 14, nine days after he led the Bulldogs to their third consecutive state sectional title with a win over Red Bank Regional.
School officials declined to say why Batchler was suspended, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters, a position they continued to hold at Tuesday night’s monthly meeting of the district’s board.
Two months after Batchler’s suspension began, acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni concluded that no criminal charges would be filed against him.
Batchler told redbankgreen that he was never interviewed by the police or the prosecutor’s office, and had no official word until May of the specific allegation against him: that he had kissed a female student in the parking lot of a Rumson business where she worked.
He denied the allegation, and said it was lodged by a girl he had reported to the school administration six weeks earlier for inappropriate behavior toward him. In the incident that led to his suspension, he said the girl unexpectedly gave him “a peck” on his lips and ran off. Two days later, the girl’s mother reported the incident to police, leading to the suspension.
Still, on the same day of the prosecutor’s exoneration, the R-FH board named longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Schulte to replace Batchler as head coach of the football team. Batchler also was removed from coaching positions with the junior varsity tennis team. [This sentence has been corrected from an earlier version, which said Batchler lost his job as freshmen basketball coach. He had not coached that team since 2012.]
Batchler remains on paid leave from his teaching post, and at the last two board meetings, has been surrounded by parents and athletes who support his demand that whatever charges remain against him be aired in public.
“I have nothing to hide,” Batchler said. “I went through a police investigation, I went through an institutional investigation. It’s clearly a personal issue, not a personnel issue.”
Batchler said Righi, with whom he had been friendly, has targeted him out of spite for unrelated matters. Righi declined comment Tuesday.
Board attorney Anthony Sciarillo told redbankgreen before the meeting that that no tenure case is pending against Batchler. He declined to discuss Batchler’s status, but said that “there’s a potential the board will come to a conclusion with respect to the information it’s looking at” in August.
Batchler, however, said that Sciarillo and Righi told him at a June 15 meeting that a tenure case would brought after him after he refused a settlement offer from the school. The terms, Batchler contends, were that he resign in exchange for having his health benefits continue through the rest of the year and a promise that Righi “wouldn’t release the police report to my next employer.”
“I need to go back as teacher, as coach, or as teacher and coach, because I live in this town and I need to clear my name,” he told redbankgreen in a recent interview at his Fair Haven home. “If I don’t go back in any capacity, if I never step foot into that building, people are still going to think, ‘he could have done something wrong.'”
Jay Campbell, a Fair Haven resident who shares youth league basketball coaching duties with Batchler, pressed the board to shed light on “what’s going on with your investigation and whatever your findings are.”
Righi and Sciarillo said they couldn’t comment.
Senior linebacker Mike Ruane, a Bulldog captain, urged the board to reinstate Batchler, whom he said “shows the true character” of the football team he led by bearing up under the circumstances.
Campbell told redbankgreen he was frustrated over Batchler’s treatment, given that he has been cleared of wrongdoing.
“Give the man back his life,” he said.