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Ex-Riverside coach no longer employed after paddling

Head of school says academy does not condone corporal punishment

POSTED: April 29, 2009 11:32 p.m.

Riverside Military Academy deputy superintendent and former head football coach Chris Lancaster is no longer employed at the private school after he violated school policy by paddling a cadet on campus last week.

Lancaster, who also served as athletic director in his two-year stint at the school, admits to paddling the cadet on the morning of April 23 after giving him the option to take the paddling or do more calisthenics to work off demerits for bad behavior.

"Yes, I paddled him once he accepted that option," Lancaster said. "... Again, it was an option. It was not forced."

Lancaster declined to comment on whether he resigned or was fired since the school became aware of the paddling when the cadet’s parent called the school on Friday to complain of the incident.

Riverside officials chose to notify the Department of Family and Children Services and the Gainesville Police Department so that they could independently verify the allegations.

No charges are pending, a police spokesman said.

In March, Lancaster announced to staff members he would be stepping down as football coach but planned to remain at Riverside until the end of this school year. At that time, he said he would be taking over as athletic director and head coach at Bruceville-Eddy, a high school in Texas near Waco. Lancaster said Wednesday he plans to move to Texas soon to be closer to his family.

Riverside Military Academy President Col. Guy Gardner said according to school policy corporal punishment is not tolerated at Riverside.

"That kind of thing we investigate," Gardner said. "Paddling, corporal punishment, although as I understand it there are some school districts in Georgia that do use that, that is not something we use here at Riverside. We have strenuous calisthenics and sometimes work details for our boys to work off their demerits, but we don’t use corporal punishment."

Gardner said Riverside’s board of trustees is leading the school’s investigation of the incident and aims to "determine if there are other concerns that need to be addressed."

While Gardner declined to comment on when or under what circumstances Lancaster separated from the academy, he did say Wednesday that Lancaster is no longer employed at the academy. He said also corporal punishment could be a basis for dismissal as determined on a case by case basis.

"Actually our policy is verbal or physical abuse is subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal," he said.

Jim Brim, attorney for Riverside Academy, said the school became aware of the incident in which Lancaster struck a student with a six-inch wide wooden paddle. Brim said the cadet involved in the incident told a parent about it and the parent called the school Friday to inquire if corporal punishment was allowed at Riverside.

"That triggered an investigation and Riverside chose to notify the Department of Family and Children Services and the Gainesville Police Department the same day so they could be aware of the situation and independently verify the facts," Brim said.

Brim said this is a situation of corporal punishment not child abuse.

"Corporal punishment is legal in Georgia schools, but it’s simply not Riverside policy," he said.

Brim said he has no information that suggests any other Riverside employees have paddled students. He also said he has no information that the cadet involved in the incident last week was injured.

Gainesville Police Lt. Brian Kelly said the department hopes to obtain a copy of the DFCS report today.

"Our biggest thing is to see what was reported to DFCS and see what those allegations are," Kelly said. "... We’d have to converse with the parents and determine that the parents want to file a report for any type of assault against their child, and if they do, we’d proceed with a formal investigation at that point."

A legal representative from DFCS did not return messages from The Times on Wednesday.

Kelly said there are many legal factors regarding the fine line between parental-type discipline at the boarding school and physical abuse that may affect whether or not Lancaster could be charged with battery if the cadet’s parents wanted to press charges.

"Depending on what the parents want to do with this, this may not go anywhere if they don’t have an issue with the spanking or depending what was around the spanking," he said. "It may just end up being an administrative issue with the academy, which it sounds like to me that they’re pretty much on top of it ..."

Lancaster, who graduated from Riverside in 1985, said in his capacity as deputy superintendent he served as a parent figure for cadets in that he was responsible for their discipline and safety. He calls the job "the toughest I’ve ever had."

"When you’re running a military school in today’s society, kids will look you in the face and lie to you and say, ‘What are you going to do to me?’ ... As deputy superintendent in charge of cadets’ day to day operations, I was just trying to do my job."

He said he allowed cadets to choose whether they wanted to do about 45 minutes of calisthenics as their punishment for bad behavior or to "take this easy route" and get paddled — an option he had as a Riverside cadet.

Lancaster said some students continually behaved poorly and had to do calisthenics day after day to work off demerits, which grew tiresome for many of them.

"I gave kids options," he said. "... This incident has nothing to do with me taking another job. I’m not trying to run from anything."



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