Superintendent placed on leave amid probe into alleged bullying of softball team who didn’t clap for her kid

A San Diego high school scandal dubbed “Clapper-gate” landed a superintendent on paid leave pending the completion of an investigation.

(Video: KGTV)

Thursday, Poway Unified School District superintendent Dr. Marian Kim Phelps was placed on paid administrative leave months after a Del Norte High School softball player had filed a suit against the district official.

According to the 93-page lawsuit filed Nov. 27 under the alias Jane Doe, the plaintiff and her father alleged that Phelps launched a retaliatory “investigation” against the player after the team had not applauded “loud enough” for their fellow player, Phelps’ daughter, at a May 2023 award banquet.

The incident, dubbed “clapper-gate,” was followed by a text and subsequent phone call from Phelps to the student the night of the banquet after 11 p.m. that, according to the complaint, included reiterated “threats of discipline against the various softball players” to the minor.

“She just went overboard and she just kind of crossed the line here,” JV Softball Coach Alan Stockton told NBC 7. “It’s on target. And it’s just a shame that nobody will stand up to her and get this handled. Everybody’s scared of her.”

The lawsuit alleged Phelps “instituted, controlled, and orchestrated an illegitimate and biased internal ‘investigation’ that resulted in Plaintiff being barred from all extracurricular activities for a significant portion of the 2023-2024 academic year.” The plaintiff was even said to have had her participation in graduation threatened.

The discipline came after she refused to sign an “Other Means of Correction Contract” which, according to the suit, “mandated signatures from both Plaintiff and her parents, requiring them to admit to and acknowledge acts she did not commit.”

Included in the filing were screenshots of Instagram posts alleged to be from Phelps including commentary, “Don’t make excuses for horrible people. You can’t put a flower in an a**hole and call it a vase,” and, “Haters don’t really hate you. They hate themselves, because you’re a reflection of what they wish to be.”

It was believed that frustrations were connected to the plaintiff and Phelps’ daughter both being pitchers and vying for playing time.

However, in her own statement, the superintendent claimed, “Never at any time did I leverage my position as superintendent to interfere with the school’s investigation nor did I ask the school to initiate one. An investigation into a student’s repeated behaviors against my daughter leading up to, including and following the softball banquet was initiated by Del Norte High School. The school conducted a thorough investigation which included interviews with multiple students and witnesses, and appropriate measures were implemented by the school.”

The daughter had offered her own statement during public comment where she alleged that she had been the target of harassment from other players as well as the coaching staff.

“This was never about not getting enough applause at a softball banquet. Rather, this is about having to endure being bullied, being yelled at in front of my teammates, and publicly humiliated and targeted for months leading up to and including the softball banquet,” she said.

Tom Peronto, a former softball coach at Del Norte told KGTV he had lost his job after speaking at recent board meetings, saying, “Personally, I think there’s enough testimony and everything to take further action.”

In their statement announcing the paid leave of Phelps, PUSD pointed to their hiring of an outside law firm on Nov. 15, 2023 “to conduct an independent investigation concerning the Del Norte High School softball program, which included but was not limited to the conduct of staff, students, administrators, and the Superintendent.”

“We have reached a sensitive point in the investigation and received information regarding the impact of this process. In an effort to avoid distraction and to ensure continued focus on the District’s business and commitment to serving our students and community, the Board is placing the Superintendent on paid administrative leave, effective immediately,” the statement continued. “As the investigation is still pending, and students and personnel matters are at issue, the Board is unable to provide further comment at this time.”

Kevin Haggerty

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