Eden Prairie High School is looking to hire a new varsity boys basketball coach by May 1.
According to Russell Reetz, the school’s associate principal of student activities, he and Trevor Mbakwe, the assistant activities director, will lead the hiring process.
Former coach David Flom resigned on Friday, March 31, after a tumultuous season that included his suspension for reading a racial slur to players and subsequent reinstatement, which sparked protests. The controversy surrounding Flom’s actions resulted in division among some players, parents, and community members.
Reetz and Flom separately informed families in the basketball program of Flom’s decision to step down after 17 seasons, in emails sent on Friday. Flom has been an elementary school teacher in the Eden Prairie district since 2006 and will continue in that role.
In his email, Reetz said the school will prioritize providing the best possible support to the team and finding ways to heal after a challenging season. “We have a talented group of players, and I am confident that we can continue to provide them with an exceptional experience,” he stated. “We will immediately begin the search for the next head coach, and we would appreciate feedback from you and our players as part of this process.”
Flom wrote in his email that he had decided it was time for someone else to lead the program. He expressed disappointment that false “comments and characterizations” about him had been made in the past few months, which he said did not “accurately represent” his track record at Eden Prairie.
“As a result of all of this, I have decided that it is best for me to step aside,” Flom stated.
Meanwhile, Sam Remus, president of the Eden Prairie Boys Basketball Association, announced Monday on the association’s website that Flom will direct spring clinics and summer camps as planned. He also stated that EPHS is seeking feedback from families to help hire a new coach.
Timeline of events
On Dec. 8, 2022, the school district suspended Flom after receiving complaints about his use of a racial slur during a team classroom session the previous day. Flom acknowledged reading the slur verbatim from a social media post in an attempt to educate his players about the potential consequences of their words and the enduring impact of online content.
After serving a six-week suspension, Flom was reinstated on Jan. 23 and resumed coaching immediately. In his first game back, the Eden Prairie side of the gymnasium gave Flom a standing ovation during his pregame introductions. He expressed remorse upon his return, stating, “I could not possibly be more sorry for all the harm I have caused.”
Several players of color resigned from the team following Flom’s reinstatement, stating that his language had created a hostile environment for Black players. The North St. Paul team also unanimously voted not to play Eden Prairie, which resulted in the cancellation of their scheduled Jan. 27 game.
The players’ families hired attorney William Walker from Walker Law Offices in Minneapolis to represent their concerns to the district.
Those families and players protested against the district’s decision to retain Flom during the season’s final two games by sitting with signs in the stands. At the March 27 school board meeting, EPHS junior Tyler Nduulu and several parents expressed concerns about Flom during the public comment session.
Nduulu said he resigned from the basketball team because of Flom’s use of a racial slur in front of the players, which, according to him, created a divisive environment and made it difficult for players of color.
“Part of me feels like an opportunity was taken away from me due to the coach’s action in December and his lack of sensitivity to people of color,” he said. “I would consider coming back if the coach were to resign and not coach the high school team.”
After Flom announced his resignation, social media users had a range of responses.
One Twitter user criticized what they saw as a “victim culture” and encouraged people to “toughen up,” while another praised Flom as a “class act,” noting that sometimes “teachable moments are ugly — it’s called difficult conversations. He made these kids aware of inappropriate language, and he gets suspended.”
A woman posting on Facebook called for more reporting from multiple perspectives. She asserted that the community that applauded Flom might not be impacted by using certain words in the same manner as those who protested against him.
Michael Minta, a parent of an Eden Prairie High School freshman who played on the 10th grade basketball team and a supporter of the group behind the protests, characterized Flom’s resignation as “a good first step” in making the program more inclusive and moving it forward.
“It’s just a lot of healing that needs to be done,” Minta said on Sunday. “By having Coach Flom moving on, I think that’s just best to try to repair this team that’s been divided because of the one incident everyone knows about. But, there are other things, too.”
With Flom’s resignation, what’s next for the group?
In a press release before the first protest, the former players and their supporters said they would continue demonstrating until the school board and administration responded to their concerns regarding Flom and the basketball program.
“We still have our attorney,” said Minta. “This [Flom no longer being coach] is one of the demands of the parents. But there are some other things too that we are troubled by, obviously.”
Walker said on Monday that several active complaints have been filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and at least one with the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.
“Ultimately, the gentleman resigned as he should have a long time ago, and nobody is jumping up for joy,” Walker said. “We’re certainly pleased he is gone, and the children can move on. There were careers involved, scholarships involved, and families involved, including Black and Brown families. All of these people were troubled, and they had nowhere to go.”
Calls for transparency
Minta thinks the district should have conducted a transparent investigation of Flom, and that the “right” decision should not have required resorting to protests, media coverage, and public pressure.
“We’re just wondering about the process here and ways that can be reformed, and there can be more transparency,” he said.
He acknowledged the constraints of personnel policies and Minnesota law. But, when an incident as significant as this occurs, he said it is the responsibility of the school administration to provide more information.
Minta contends that other school districts facing similar personnel situations have issued statements providing updates on their ongoing investigations while keeping certain details confidential.
“There was some frustration, not just on the side that wanted to see reform or see the program going in a different direction with the coach, but I think there’s probably some uneasiness with some people who were supporters of Flom who thought it probably could have gone a little bit better,” Minta said. “There are opportunities to improve this process, and we want to ensure it actually occurs.”
Minta is encouraged by Reetz’s letter to parents, which has led him to believe that his group, along with other families associated with the program, might have a say in selecting the new basketball coach. “Obviously, we can’t hire anybody but I am optimistic that they will listen to the voices of some of the families and the players during that process,” he said.
Walker hopes the school will hire a coach who understands and is receptive to the needs and issues of “Black, Brown, and Indigenous people who may want to participate in public school sports.”
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