Fired Woodstock coach gets day in court

By Mike Donoghue, Vermont News First

A version of this story appeared in the Vermont Standard in Woodstock this  week. 

A federal judge heard testimony this week and has taken under advisement legal arguments on whether the longtime Woodstock Union High School snowboard coach should be ordered reinstated to his post after he claims he was fired for joining a private conversation by two team members about transgender athletes.

It will be up to Judge Christina Reiss to sort out the conflicting testimony and the claims made by Woodstock coach David J. Bloch that his First Amendment rights were violated by School Superintendent Sherry Sousa and the Windsor Central Supervisory Union Board.

Jay Nichols, executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association and Heather Bouchey, interim Vermont Secretary of Education, also are named as defendants in the federal civil rights lawsuit, but no testimony showed they were involved in the firing of Bloch.

Bloch, the founder of the school program, is seeking a preliminary injunction to get his seasonal job back before this winter because the court trial on the merits is unlikely to happen until August 2024. One of his lawyers, Mathew Hoffman, said Bloch would suffer irreparable harm if he is forced to miss the coming season.

Bloch received support on the witness stand Monday from one of the two Woodstock Union snowboard team members involved in the private conversation during a break at a snowboard meet.

The names of the two WUHS snowboarders involved in the conversation and the name of the transgender student from Hartford were mentioned throughout the court hearing. The Vermont Daily Chronicle has chosen not to print their names at this time.

Burlington lawyers Pietro Lynn and Sean Toohey attempted to show through legal arguments and testimony that the injunction request should be rejected.

Sousa, Woodstock Athletic Director Jack Boymer, and Assistant Principal Cody Tancreti testified on behalf of the defendants.

They also maintained Bloch had admitted to Boymer and Sousa that he made disparaging remarks in front of his team about a transgender athlete competing on the girls’ team for Hartford High that day.

However, Bloch and his lawyers told a different story and said there was no disparaging remark about the Hartford transgender athlete.

They also painted a picture of both an incomplete investigation and an unlawful firing.

His lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom noted Bloch was never told he had the right to a lawyer, a right to present witnesses, the right to appeal his dismissal and was never provided a copy of the investigative report that he says Sousa promised him when she fired Bloch. As it turned out there was not a report, but rather just notes that Boymer and Tancreti took.

Bloch testified that he was seated at a picnic table in the lodge with two students during a lunchtime break between the slopestyle and rail jam events planned for the meet. He said his ears perked up when he heard the two students talking about DNA. He said he explained there is a difference in male and females and that archeologists digging up old bones can tell if they are male or female. He said he noted also that there are feminine males and masculine females.

He estimated the whole conversation lasted 3 minutes or less and the comments were never directed at any opposing athlete.

For the first time Woodstock school officials publicly claimed Bloch had said in front of his team that “they need to try real hard because they are competing against a guy pretending to be a girl.”

The male student involved in the conversation followed Bloch to the witness stand to support the coach and disputed claims made by the school district.

He added he never heard Bloch make the statement that Woodstock is basing the dismissal upon.

The male student said he had first mentioned it was unfair for the Woodstock girls to be competing against a school with a transgender student. The girl from the Woodstock team involved in the conversation then called him “transphobic,” he said.

In his testimony, he estimated the 3-way conversation lasted no more than 2 ½ minutes. He said he was never interviewed during the investigation before Bloch was fired. He said in the days after the dismissal he tried to engage people as to what had happened.

“He is the coach the team really needs,” the male student said.

The female student, who was referred to as Student Number 2 in earlier court filings, was never called by either side at the court hearing. Tancreti’s notes from his interview with her, which lasted less than 5 minutes, were presented to the court.

Bloch’s lawyers had submitted text messages sent to Bloch by the female student supporting him and indicating she had never told anybody about the private conversation. She said she wanted him back as coach. Tancreti’s notes indicated, without attribution, that the female student was friends with the Hartford transgender student “and informed them that this had happened.” Boymer testified he spoke only to Bloch and claimed the coach admitted he made negative comments about an athlete born as a male, competing on behalf of the girls. He estimated the “quick conversation” lasted 3-5 minutes.

Boymer shared the purported admission with Tancreti, who said he began to question team members, but stopped after four interviews.

Testimony revealed only one of the four persons interviewed by Tancreti was part of the specific conversation.

Two of the four weren’t at Jay Peak for the meet, but made negative comments about Bloch that were

included in Tancreti’s notes. He identified one of them as Assistant Coach Alyssa Smith.

Tancreti testified that instead of trying to find those involved in the actual conversation in question, he just went down the team roster seeking interviews.

Sousa, who at the time was in her third year as superintendent, said based on the information she received, she called a school lawyer. The unnamed lawyer drafted a dismissal letter for Sousa to sign and she gave it to Bloch when she met with him at the end of the day, she said.

As it turned out the dismissal letter was defective, Sousa told the court. It had cited Woodstock’s Hazing, Harassment, and Bullying policy, but it was not relevant because the reported claim involved a student from another school.

Lynn and Toohey, whose law firm was not involved in writing the termination letter, still tried to show the district acted in good faith.

Under questioning by Lynn, Sousa acknowledged she had a transgender child in her family, but it had nothing to do with Bloch’s firing. She also said she had a son who was on Bloch’s snowboard team from 2012 to 2016.

Bloch’s lawsuit had noted that Sousa remained angry throughout the private meeting she hosted on Feb. 9 to fire the coach. He testified at the hearing this week that she was “red faced” during the meeting. “I knew she was mad.”

Bloch said Sousa promised he would get a copy of the investigative report once it was finished, but he said he never got it.

Sousa maintained Bloch readily admitted the inappropriate comment and asked for a second chance when she met with him at the end of the school day to fire him. She said Bloch claimed he would be reaching out to a lawyer and the newspapers.

Sousa said coaching contracts are year to year, but Tancreti testified coaching contracts roll over to the following year unless “something pops up.” He did say Sousa has the final say.

Bloch said he had never been disciplined and never had a complaint from a student or parent in his 11 years of coaching.

The coach said he tries to “treat everyone the same.” He said he enjoys seeing student-athletes develop through the years and come out of their shells as they get to upper grades.

Under questioning, Bloch said he does believe “sex is unchanging.”

Bloch said Hartford did not have a coach and that he sat next to the father of the transgender student on the bus that Woodstock and Hartford shared for the meet. He said he never spoke about the issue with the father.

Tancreti testified he received a text message the night of the meet from Hartford Athletic Director Jeff Moreno, with a complaint about a comment reportedly made by Bloch. Tancreti said he never spoke with Moreno during the investigation. Moreno apparently got a complaint about the conversation from a Hartford parent, who heard it from a Hartford student, who somehow heard a comment was made to Woodstock team members.

Lawyers for Nichols and Bouchey have maintained they should be dropped from the lawsuit because they had no involvement with the dismissal. At one point attorney Steven Zakrzewski on behalf of the VPA, had Nichols stand up at the defense table and asked Bloch if he knew him. The coach said no.

Bouchey did not attend the hearing. Reiss, who was a state judge for about six years before she was sworn in as a federal judge in 2010, gave no specific timetable for a decision.

Bloch has previously said in court papers that other Woodstock school employees feel muzzled by the district.

“Other Windsor Central Supervisory District employees are afraid to speak out on issues related to the immutability of sex and the appropriateness of a teenage male competing against teenage females in an athletic competition,” Bloch said in a sworn affidavit filed in support of his preliminary injunction request.

“Those employees understand that discussion of these issues will incur discipline under the school district’s Harassment, Hazing and Bullying Policy and procedures…”

Lawyers for Nichols and Bouchey have maintained they should be dropped from the lawsuit because they had no involvement with the dismissal. At one point attorney Steven Zakrzewski on behalf of the VPA, had Nichols stand up at the defense table and asked Bloch if he knew him. The coach said no.

Categories: Education, Uncategorized

3 replies »

  1. The trans mafia will go after anyone who opposes their philosophy misguided as it seems to be. The pushback will most likely come when they cross the ” reasonable ” line “.

  2. I call attention to snowboarding coach David Bloch’s excellent response to his firing under the Commentary section of Tuesday Sept. 26th’s edition of the Times Argus entitled “Gender Biology Truth.” Definitely worth a read in explaining his stance for stating the truth and his faith centered belief for his actions which were followed by this unjust firing. Most likely some liberal writer, maybe Walt Amses, will fire back and take a radical objection to a Christian based decision. Well done, David Bloch…we stand with you!