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Gettysburg school district responds to public concern, saying coach’s gender identity no factor in holdup of contract renewal

The district declined to go into details, citing personnel matters.

  • Gabriela Martínez/WITF
Gettysburg Area School District board met Aug. 21 to vote on whether to renew the employment contract of head tennis coach Sasha Yates.

 Gabriela Martinez / WITF

Gettysburg Area School District board met Aug. 21 to vote on whether to renew the employment contract of head tennis coach Sasha Yates.

The Gettysburg Area School District board has been unable to decide whether to renew the contract of a transgender tennis coach. 

In the meantime, Sasha Yates’ future as a coach for the district is in limbo. The girls’ tennis team already had its Aug. 22 season opener without a head coach. 

“This isn’t just about me anymore. This is about my kids. They are without a coach, which is not there,” Yates said. “I want this to be over, and I want my students to be able to get on with the important business of winning tennis matches.”

Gabriela Martinez / WITF

Sasha Yates has coached at Gettysburg Area School district since 2019.

Some people who spoke in support of Yates at a school board meeting say they’re concerned Yates may be let go because she’s transgender, which would violate federal law. Two board members, including the board vice president, say Yates’ gender identity is not the issue.

Yates’ contract came up at the Aug. 7th school board meeting. Board member Michelle Smyers brought up a motion to remove Yates from a list of contracts the district’s administration had recommended for renewal. 

The board vote was deadlocked because two of the nine members were not there. The vote was 3-3. Michelle Smyers, Timon Linn, and Al Moyer voted to not renew Yates’ contract, and Kenneth Hassinger, Tim Seigman, and Jeremy Davis voted to renew. Mike Dickerson, vice president of the board, abstained.

The board was supposed to make a decision in its Aug. 21 meeting, but it postponed the vote to allow additional time for community response and gather more information.

Smyers did not respond to a request for comment on her reasons for the motion and her vote not to renew, but she told PennLive that she has concerns about the coach’s actions that she would have raised for any other school board member. She cited Yates’ use of a girls’ locker room in 2022.

Members of the district’s community have pointed to anti-LGBTQ Facebook posts Smyers has on her page, including one that refers  to transgender identity as a “cult” and an article from Public Discourse she shared regarding “transgender totalitarianism.”

Board vice president Dickerson and the administration have declined to discuss the reasons Yates’ contract renewal is facing hurdles, citing “personnel matters.”

More than two dozen people showed up on Aug. 21 to Gettysburg Middle School’s auditorium  to speak on the topic of Yates’ contract renewal. All but four of the parents, student athletes and staff members spoke in favor of keeping Yates as a tennis coach.

“Under Sasha’s coaching, I have not only developed a profound love for the sport of tennis, but my skills as a player have improved dramatically. Sasha is a very accomplished and passionate coach. She comes every day smiling, ready to make us work, but also allow us to have fun,” said Paul Kennedy, a sophomore.

Sonya Del Tredici also spoke at the meeting shortly after her son, Kennedy.

“We have found coach Yates to be nothing but professional, appropriate, friendly, an excellent coach teaching the boys to love the game in a professional and supportive environment over the last four years that we have worked with her,” said Del Tredici, who identified herself as a physician and a leader of York Hospital’s LGBTQ health curriculum.

Chelsea Zimmann, who graduated in 2021 and was a team member, spoke about how Yates helped her get through high school during difficult times.

Gabriela Martinez / WITF

Chelsea Zimmann, class of ’21, speaks at Aug. 21 Gettysburg Area School District meeting.

“At tennis practice, over and over again, I was encouraged to be myself, to work through my problems, and to figure out who I truly was,” Zimmann said.

Parent Steve Carbaugh was among the community members who spoke against renewing the coach’s contract. He recounted how his daughter felt uncomfortable when she saw Yates changing clothes in a girl’s locker room, and chided the administration’s response when he reported the incident.

“I put the custody of my child in your hands during the day, and it’s my job as a parent to protect my child, and this administration has not done that. There’s no reason that a 16-year-old girl should feel uncomfortable going to the bathroom,” Carbaugh said.

Yates, who told WITF about one time she changed her clothes in the girls’ locker room, said she believed she was in a secluded spot. 

In an official letter issued to Yates by the district, and which Yates shared with WITF,  Gettysburg Area High School Principal Jeremy Lusk documented two incidents. He wrote that in September 2020, the district’s athletic director discussed with Yates that she “should not be changing (your clothing) amongst students in the locker room,” and that Yates later “apologized and agreed this is not acceptable practice for a coach.”

The letter also mentions an incident later that month claiming that Yates asked questions and made comments about women’s menstrual cycles and preferred underwear styles that made “several students uncomfortable.” Yates did not recall those comments in conversation with administrators, according to the letter.

District spokesperson Rebecca Leathery wrote in an email in response to a question about district bathroom regulations that “staff have separate facilities from students, and that the “expectation is that staff use their own facilities except to check in or monitor.”

In an interview last week, Yates mentioned another occasion this spring, in which she used a girls’ restroom, and another student and a staff member were in there at the time. After that, she said the school decided to give her access to a single-occupancy bathroom, which she used for the rest of the semester.

“I chose not to fight that battle. Instead, I chose to show that I can be reasonable and I can compromise,” Yates said.

Yates started working for the district in the spring of 2019. She usually coaches the female team in the fall and the male team in the spring. 

She began her transition in November 2021, and has coached three seasons since then. Overall, she says she has felt supported by students and colleagues. Her name on the district’s website is “Sasha,” and not her name assigned at birth. 

“My kids have been amazing through all of this,” she said of the team members. “Without my tennis team, I would not have had the courage to come out as trans.”

Dickerson said the delay to approve Yates’ contract, which was recommended for approval by the district’s administration, is not related to her gender identity. He said the district has known for years about Yates’ transition.

“She has gone through several approval cycles. It’s never been an issue. It’s not an issue in the district. We are trying to navigate through a personnel issue,” Dickerson said, but declined to give specifics about the nature of the personnel issue.

Some members of the community claim there is an effort to fire Yates because of her transgender identity, including Janelle Wertzberger, who during public comment told board members that firing Yates would send the message “that transgender people are not worthy of being part of this community.”

Constance Tarbox, a parent of a transgender student in the district, said she does not want her child to feel like they have to hide.

“I want this world to be a safer place for them, and so they need to know that their school board is protecting them and the way to show that is to protect their teachers,” Tarbox said.

Leathery said the district is unable to comment on personnel matters, but that it’s “taking this matter very seriously and continues to look into it.”


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