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A former coach at American Heritage High School in Delray Beach filed a discrimination complaint against the school with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, arguing that he was fired in June for allowing members of his basketball team to show their support for Black Lives Matter during pre-game warmups.
“We are asking for an official investigation into this matter because we believe the school has repeatedly failed to act in the best interest of its students and disregarded Florida law,” said attorney Chuck Rodman, founder of Rodman Employment Law, which filed the legal action on behalf of former coach Brett Studley.
Studley, who coached American Heritage High School girls basketball and led them to the regional semi-finals for the first time in the private school’s history, said he came under fire last December when two of his players chose to warm up while wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts.
“For me this was supporting my players because they were not being supported by the administration after a racial attack in the classroom,” said Studley, 42. The girls had reported that during an online class, some students had changed their display names and one person changed the display name to include a racial slur. The students were not content with the school’s response, Studley said.
School officials said the offending student did not attend American Heritage, and that measures were taken to prevent the incident from reoccurring.
After the basketball team members wore their Black Lives Matter shirts, with Studley’s permission, the school canceled two games and a fundraiser, ostensibly over COVID-19 concerns, though supporters of the students and the coach suspected it had more to do with the racial justice activism.
“Fear of punishment will not silence us,” Studley posted on his Twitter account after the cancellations. “Those concerned with Covid, I would like to say our program has not had any Covid cases this season.”
Attorney Eric Schwartzreich, who represents the school, said then that American Heritage enforces a dress code that prohibits political statements to prevent discord and bullying. Schwartzreich was not available for comment Monday.
The issue is more complicated than a political message on a shirt, Rodman said. “That would be the issue if the girls were being punished for wearing the shirts. Brett was being punished for objecting to discrimination on campus and expressing support for the girls’ desire to fight it.”
Monge Codio, father of former American Heritage star basketball player Jordana Codio, said in a news release that he supported Studley’s stand.
“It takes a lot of courage for a successful coach to put his neck on the line to stand up for students of color in a private school setting in Florida, especially in today’s climate, and make them feel supported,” said Codio, whose daughter was one of the students who wore the Black Lives Matter shirts. “Brett did the best he could to support his players while at the same time adhering to his employer policies. He did what was right.”