Investigation Clears Arcadia High School Coaches Accused of Racial Bias

A parent and former coach said he witnessed the head boys' basketball coach favoring white players on a daily basis.
An internal investigation into two basketball coaches at Arcadia High School who were accused in February of racial discrimination found insufficient evidence to back up those allegations, the Scottsdale Unified School District said Wednesday afternoon.

The investigation began after parent and assistant coach Brian Ali alleged to district officials in mid-February that head coach Stephen Danford and assistant coach Phillip Lozevski favored white over black student players, including by coaching them in a way that offered black students fewer opportunities on the court.

In a general statement, the Scottsdale district declared that the coaches had not discriminated against black students. "After considering the witness accounts, including statements of students, staff, parents, the coaches, and the complaining parties, we did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that the coaches engaged in racial discrimination or retaliation, as alleged," the statement said.

But the district nevertheless recognized "a need for staff, students, and the community to have meaningful conversations about diversity and inclusion," the statement added.

One outcome of the investigation, which was conducted by school and district administrators and lawyers, was a recommendation for diversity and inclusion training for all athletic staff at the district's middle and high schools, and the district had already selected dates and trainers, the statement said.

Reached Wednesday, Ali said he had no comment at the time regarding the investigation's conclusions. Danford did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment, and Lozevski said he was unable to comment.

Amy Bolton, spokesperson for the Scottsdale Unified School District, said that the statement, which did not include a report or specific findings, "will serve as the District's only comment at this time on [the] investigation." The statement was not accompanied by detailed findings or other evidence.

The district said Wednesday it was also reviewing its procedures for students to report discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, and that it was implementing recommendations for students to "have conversations about this important topic in a safe environment, facilitated by knowledgeable and skilled trainers."

The investigation was conducted primarily by Principal Todd Stevens of Arcadia High School and District General Counsel Michelle Marshall, with Assistant Superintendent Milissa Sackos periodically pitching in. Scottsdale Unified School District Superintendent John Kriekard directed the probe, which was reviewed by outside counsel Susan Segal, who "concurred in the findings and recommendations," the district said.

The investigators interviewed 25 witnesses and reviewed documents, including about 16 unsolicited statements from parents, students, and other members of the community, the district said in its statement.

According to a preliminary report from the investigation dated May 24, Danford had yelled at a black student during practice to "cut your fucking hair."

Ali, the parent-coach who raised concerns of racial discrimination to the district, told Phoenix New Times in June that Danford also liked to tell black kids, "This isn't Compton ... This is Arcadia," if they let their pants sag. That detail was not mentioned in the May report.

That report also found "no 'direct evidence' of bias, such as racial slurs." It refuted allegations that decisions about playing time or bumping players to to the varsity team were race-based, and while it concluded that "African American students felt they were treated less favorably than Caucasian or non-African American students," it also allowed that "there may have been an underlying unconscious bias or racial insensitivity in the basketball program."

To address these issues, it recommended counseling and diversity training for the coaches.