Franklin County’s middle school boys basketball coach has resigned
his position, and been placed on administrative leave from his job as a fifth
grade paraprofessional, after a relative of one of his players raised strong
objections to a comment the coach made pertaining to the young man’s sexuality.
The incident in question arose following the Seahawks’ away game in Wewahitchka on Oct. 21. After the Seahawk victory over the Gators, Coach Nathan Jones, members of the team, and several parents and fans stopped at the McDonald’s restaurant in Port St. Joe, a meal break that is customary when county teams travel into or through Gulf County.
The school district has not provided details of what is alleged to have been said by Jones. But the student’s relative, Mary Richardson, who had been present at the restaurant, posted a video on Facebook in which she commented extensively on what happened.
In the viral video, the woman said she overheard Jones, who was sitting with some of the students, say that “I wouldn’t be surprised if he (the player) walked up to me one day and said he was gay.”
The context of Jones’ remark remains unconfirmed.
Superintendent Steve Lanier said Thursday that Jones, a former Seahawk basketball player with the Class of 2018, had voluntarily stepped down from his position, which is funded by the district as a $1,977 supplemental contract.
At Thursday night’s school board meeting, no mention was made of the matter, other than an announcement by Lanier, at the meeting’s outset, that the home game against Tolar that evening had been cancelled, on Tolar’s request, and that it would be rescheduled.
Jones was not on the sidelines at Tuesday’s home game against Port St. Joe, in which the Seahawks fell by a point in the last second. Coaching duties have been assumed for the time being by Seahawks varsity coach Ray Bailey.
Lanier said Human Resources Director Karen Peddie and Security Officer Anthony Croom are handling an investigation of the incident, including its bearing on Jones’ paraprofessional job, which he is working as he pursues his college degree.
In the meantime, Jones has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, Lanier said.
The superintendent said he and Principal Lawrence Pender met with both Richardson and the student’s mom last week.
“We’re not taking it lightly,” he said. “We have to investigate and we have to give due process as we do for any teacher.”
Richardson said in her Facebook video that she was incensed at what she overheard, and confronted Jones over it. Both she and Lanier confirmed she had cursed out the coach in the presence of students.
She indicated Jones tried to respectfully address her concerns at the time, saying that “Ma’am, that’s what these kids do, they pick on each other.” She did not elaborate on Jones’ explanation of what had prompted his remark.
“I don’t care what they (students) do, you don’t do that, you’re a grown man,” Richardson said on Facebook.
She went on to voice outrage, and to press for Jones’ removal from his paraprofessional position.
“I am pretty sure there are more than one effeminate little boy out there and more than one little girl who don’t want to wear skirts,” she said. “I am pretty sure they’re hiding and they’re scared and they don’t want to come forward because of you.
“For a grown man to say what he said about a child to other children, you’re wrong dude and you got to go,” she said. “This guy tried to embarrass and demean and dehumanize a child.
“You don’t know what your child is going through,” she said. “Somebody could be bullying, somebody could be picking on them, they could be having thoughts of suicide. They’re going to go to Nate Jones and say ‘Mr. Jones, I need to talk to you?”
Defenders of Jones have said he has an excellent rapport with the players, is a product of the local schools, and holds Florida Department of Education Athletic Coaching Certification, a distinction not universally held by those coaches who volunteer within the district.
They also say other coaches have made statements, in unrelated situations, that were highly questionable and offensive, but did not lead to their being removed either as coaches or within the classroom.
The Times reached out to Jones for comment and will update this report as necessary.
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