Denver Police are investigating incidents at East High School in which videos show multiple cheerleaders being forced to do the splits by their cheer coach, Ozell Williams.
Williams can be seen pushing one of the girls, Ally Wakefield, into the splits, while she begs him to stop 9 times in the 24 second video, all while her teammates hold her arms.
The cheer coach, assistant cheer coach, high school principal, assistant principal and Denver Public Schools deputy general counsel have been placed on administrative leave.
There are videos of this occurring to eight cheerleaders.
Kirsten Wakefield is Ally's mother. She emailed a video of the incident to East High School Athletic Director, Lisa Porter.
In the email, Kirsten Wakefield wrote, "My husband and I would like to know what the administration is going to do about my daughter's injury and how it happened."
Cheri Nickolay is the mother of another cheerleader that was forced into the splits.
Once she saw the video of her daughter, she said, "I don’t understand why that’s allowed. ... That made me sick to my stomach. I don’t know how you could justify that.”
Parents of the cheerleaders have been sending complaints to the Denver School District for months.
The district's investigation began yesterday.
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg issued the following statement about the investigation:
"Earlier today, I became aware of an exercise used at cheer practices this summer at East High School. We immediately began taking steps to investigate this issue, and our Department of Safety is supporting Denver Police in this effort. In order to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, we have placed East Principal Andy Mendelsberg, East Assistant Principal Lisa Porter, East Cheer Coach Ozell Williams, East Assistant Cheer Coach Mariah Cladis and DPS Deputy General Counsel Michael Hickman on leave. This is standard practice in an investigation of this type. It does not imply or prejudge in any way the actions of the individuals or what the investigation might determine. Please know that we will share the results of the investigation as soon as possible. I want to reiterate in no uncertain terms our commitment to the safety of our students. We absolutely prohibit any practices that place our students’ physical and mental health in jeopardy. We do not and will not allow any situation in which a student is forced to perform an activity or exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop. While this investigation is ongoing, we are entirely focused on ensuring our students and staff at East are receiving the supports they need. A senior leader at the school, East Assistant Principal Jason Maclin, will serve as interim principal during this time and we are providing additional counseling for our students and families. With regards to certain videos, I cannot state strongly enough – as the superintendent of the school district and as the father of two high school-aged daughters -- that the images and actions depicted are extremely distressing and absolutely contrary to our core values as a public school community."
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