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Keene Asked to Control Meeting Narrative on December 20

- February 12, 2024

A new cache of text messages shows former school board chair, superintendent among those instructing coordinator of school safety and security Marshall Keene on managing meeting.

Editor’s Note: Fallout from a December 20 meeting at Riverbend High School that led to the principal and head swim coach being placed on administrative leave continues to grow. This report – based on newly unearthed text messages – builds on earlier reporting about the December 20 meeting itself, the parent at the center of the controversy and what sparked the debate, and the connections between the parent at the center of the debate and school leadership.

by Adele Uphaus

Multiple text messages were exchanged among Riverbend High School employees, Spotsylvania school division leadership, and the parent at the center of unrest plaguing the swim team during the contentious December 20 meeting run by principal Xavier Downs for swim-team parents and coaches.

The text messages were obtained in a Freedom of Information Request for texts from December 10, 2023, to the present. They show exchanges before, during, and after that meeting among the following individuals:

  • Division Superintendent Mark Taylor
  • Deputy Superintendent Kelly Guempel
  • Then-School Board Chair Lisa Phelps
  • Executive Director of Secondary Schools Allen Hicks
  • Coordinator of School Safety and Security Marshall Keene
  • Director of Safety and Discipline Jeremy Siefker
  • Riverbend Athletic Director Jesse Lohr
  • and the parent

Both Keene and Lohr provided records of their personal text messages as part of the FOIA request.

Three individuals — Phelps, Taylor, and Downs — did not produce any of their personal text messages as requested.

Records provided by Keene show exchanges between Keene and Phelps, Taylor, Hicks, and the parent while the meeting was ongoing, as well as with Downs the afternoon of the meeting.

Records provided by Lohr show exchanges between himself and the parent, Guempel, and Hicks during the meeting, as well as with Downs in the days leading up to the meeting.

The text messages produced by Lohr also show that head swim coach Rachael Adriani informed him as early as December 11 that the parent was unhappy with Adriani’s decision to implement a new peer leadership structure, sending him screenshots of the parent’s messages with herself and Assistant Coach Theodore Marcus. Adriani asked Lohr for a meeting with him and the parent, and told him she was “unsure how to proceed.”

“Just move forward, and it will hopefully work itself out,” Lohr told her.

‘R u serious. What am I supposed to do?’

Subsequent messages among Lohr and Adriani, as well as Lohr and Downs, show that Lohr determined a meeting was necessary to manage the growing situation, and he attempted to schedule one several times. Downs, however, evidently told him to cancel.

“Can you give me a couple of bullet points to email to parents?” Lohr texted to Downs on December 17. “No meeting due to???”

Downs responded, “Just say the meeting is cancelled. No bullet points needed.”

On December 19, Downs changed his mind about a meeting and informed swim team parents and coaches that one would be held at the high school the following evening.

Guempel told Keene in a text message that day that Phelps wanted Keene to attend the meeting.

“R u serious. What am I supposed to do?” Keene asked Guempel.

On December 20, shortly after noon, Keene texted Lohr to ask if the meeting could be held “in an area with cameras just in case,” and Lohr responded that the auditorium has cameras.

‘At least she’s not showing her a—’

Keene had conversations ongoing with Phelps, Taylor, Hicks, and the parent while the meeting was in progress.

He told Phelps that Downs was not handling the meeting well, apparently because Downs started addressing “the complaints.”

This is apparently a reference to concerns about the text-messaging exchanges between Marcus and one of the swim-team members, whose parent is at the center of the controversy.

“If he starts talking about the texts I’m going to stop. I’m going to need back up on this,” Keene told Phelps, and Phelps responded, “Ok.”

Keene also told Lohr at one point that Downs was “not doing well.”

To Taylor, Keene reported that Downs was “muddying the waters with HR questions about the coach.”

“Should I stop him. Or let him entertain these questions. Parents want to know about complaint,” Keene told Taylor.

Taylor told Keene to, “Get them back on talking about coaching and how they are going to go forward. Shift the complaint over to HR. Make this about how the team and coaching will go forward.”

Hicks also asked Keene for updates several times during the meeting and at one point commented about Adriani, “Well at least she is not showing her a—.”

The parent – who was watching the meeting via online streaming – texted Keene at least 13 times during the course of the meeting. “Why is Mr. Downs saying there is no formal complaint. I did file a complaint. I went to him with evidence. This guy is making this about coaching style. I knew he was going to do that. Am I missing something? Was I supposed to fill a form out or something to make it a formal complaint?”

The parent also texted Lohr during the meeting, asking “Am I missing something? Was I supposed to fill a form out or something to make it a formal complaint? Did I do something wrong?”

It doesn’t appear that either Lohr or Keene replied to the parents’ texts during the meeting.

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