Batavia football coach criticized over referendum email

A Batavia resident has complained about Batavia High School varsity football coach Dennis Piron expressing his opinion regarding a referendum about borrowing money for facilities work that would include an artificial turf field in the school's stadium.

It was inappropriate, according to the complaint, because Piron used his job title.

Carl Dinwiddie, who follows the action of several Batavia governments, emailed the complaint to Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham Tuesday.

Next Tuesday voters will let school officials know whether the district should borrow $15 million for buildings and grounds projects, with about half the money expected to be spent installing two artificial turf fields and other field work at Batavia High. It is an advisory referendum.

Dinwiddie's complaint included a copy of an email from Piron, sent from Piron's personal email account, with the subject line: "A message from Coach Piron - please read."

"Coach Piron cannot say it's a personal email once he has identified himself as 'Coach Piron' and that he is '100% in support of a YES vote for the upcoming advisory question and am hoping you are as well.' Once he says this is from Coach Piron he is now acting in his official capacity and cannot claim otherwise," Dinwiddie wrote. Dinwiddie also said that as a district employee, Piron would get financial benefit from the field improvements.

A pro-referendum group also planned to hand out yard signs outside the ticket booths at the stadium after a home football game Oct. 24, according to Facebook posts from the Batavia Bulldogs Boosters organization. Dinwiddie questioned the propriety of that, since the stadium and the booths are on school property.

District Superintendent Lisa Hichens said the district has not received a copy of Dinwiddie's complaint. She said the district did review its policy on political activity with employees recently. It says employees cannot engage in political activity during compensated time or using district resources.

Hichens also said project supporters asked the district for permission to hand out signs near the game, and were told they could do so off school grounds.

Dinwiddie's complaint also questions a video on the district's website and YouTube. In it, Batavia High Assistant Principal/Athletic Director Dave Andrews stands in the stadium and discusses where students are currently practicing some sports and marching band, and the district's goal of having all athletes and band members practice at the high school.

"We feel that is important for their safety. We also feel that it is important just for the community aspect of 'We Are One' here at Batavia High School. ... It's important that they (athletes and musicians) feel they are one and they are on our campus as well," Andrews says.

Hichens said the video was in line with the district's efforts to present information about the proposal, without advocating a "yes" or "not" vote. She said the district has received no complaints regarding Piron or Andrews.

Cunningham has told Dinwiddie his office doesn't investigate such complaints. The Kane County state's attorney's office does. Thursday, public information officer Chris Nelson said the state's attorney does not comment on inquiries or pending inquiries. Dinwiddie could not be reached for additional comment.

  A resident of Batavia Avenue shows their support to the idea of the Batavia school district borrowing $15 million for buildings and grounds projects that include installing artificial turf fields at Batavia High School. Susan Sarkauskas/
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