MAPLEWOOD, NJ — South Orange-Maplewood School District confirmed Aug. 27 that Columbia High School’s athletic director has been suspended indefinitely with pay. At its Monday, Aug. 20, meeting, the Board of Education voted to suspend five staffers — none of whom were named in the meeting’s agenda. According to the district in its Aug. 27 statement, Busichio’s suspension — one of the five — is a direct result of the ongoing imbroglio concerning CHS’ baseball program. It remains unclear who the four other staffers are.
Back in summer 2014, a CHS baseball parent, Randy Nathan, filed a harassment, intimidation and bullying complaint against team coaches Joe Fischetti and Matt Becht, who were not hired back in 2016. Nathan’s complaint was bolstered by former player David DeFranco, who also filed suit against the coaches for bullying. Since 2014, the saga has continued, with accusations coming from parents, students and former coaches who say the matter was not handled properly.
The latest fallout from the ongoing situation is now Busichio, who declined to comment on the matter to the News-Record.
When asked for comment, BOE President Elizabeth Baker directed the News-Record to district spokeswoman Suzanne Turner, who told the News-Record she cannot comment on personnel matters. Turner did, however, send the following statement to the News-Record.
“As many in our community are aware, concerns were raised during the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years about our high school baseball program,” the statement read. “During the course of a lawsuit now pending against the district, the board was recently presented with highly disturbing information about the management of the program during those seasons which prompted swift and aggressive action on our part to assure a positive and wholesome experience for our student-athletes.”
Though the district is “limited by law in what we can disclose to the public at this time,” it did remind the community in its statement that the baseball program has been under new leadership since spring 2017; in December 2016, James Whalen was hired as the team’s head coach.
“The district has, over the last two school years, devoted considerable resources and training for administrators, staff and coaches in the prevention, investigation and response to instances of harassment, intimidation and bullying,” the statement continued. “This work and the creation of a positive climate for all students remains a top priority in the coming year.
“The district has already taken some additional steps we have felt necessary to protect our students going forward, and we may take further action in the future. We will release additional information as we are able to, but ask for the public’s trust and patience as we move forward to address this sensitive and important matter,” the statement concluded.