The former principal of a Denver area high school who was fired after a video showing cheerleaders forced into splits went viral has spoken publicly about the scandal.
"I feel comfortable we did what we should have done. I would never want kids to be hurt. That's not who I am and I would not allow it," East High School Principal Andy Mendelsberg, 49, told CBS Denver.
In the interview, he maintained that both he and his staff acted appropriately and swiftly when they found out about the videos after receiving it from a parent on June 15. The footage shows former cheer coach Ozell Williams forcing teens at cheer camp to do splits.
In one video that has since gone viral, Incoming freshman Ally Wakefield is seen crying as she is forced by teammates and the coach to go into an extended split. The incident took place during her the first week of cheer camp, according to NBC affiliate K5. Seven other cheerleaders are forced to do the same. Williams is shown in the video pushing each girl down by their shoulders.
"I wanted to put an end to it as quickly as possible," Mendelsberg said. He said he notified Denver Public Schools human resources department with 24 hours. According to CBS Denver, the former principal claims he also spoke to DPS attorney Michael Hickman, his immediate superior and the cheer parent who sent him the videos. He also said he ordered Williams to stop conducting the painful exercise routine. Mendelsberg said he set up meetings to discuss the incident swiftly the day after the discovery of the footage.
"I don't know that we did anything wrong. We responded immediately, set up a meeting, talked to the family, the coach. We put out a directive to the coach we would no longer be doing this stretch, we put together an action plan for our coach to improve his work. We went up the chain of command at DPS. I talked to the HR rep, I talked to legal. We sent a summary of that meeting. I keep going back to, 'Did we act timely?' We did. 'Did we stop anything that would jeopardize students?' We did. I feel comfortable we did what we should have done."
However, after the videos were released to the media, Mendelsberg said he took the blame. CBS Denver reports that a report released by the school district Friday reveals that officials at East High School didn’t do enough to protect its cheerleaders from physical and emotional harm.
"East High school Principal Andy Mendelsberg and Athletic Director Lisa Porter did not take sufficient steps to ensure that the physical and emotional safety and well-being on the East High School cheer team were fully protected," Superintendent Tom Boasberg said at a press conference, according to CBS News.
After the incident came to light, Mendelsberg retired and Porter resigned.
Williams was reportedly “let go” by two other high schools for the same splits training technique.
"I'm disappointed", said Mendelsberg. "I just want to be clear we did not ignore this situation. We took it very seriously. We took a lot of steps to ensure safety and we acted immediately and we continued to follow up.”