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Dakota Ridge poms coach fired amid theft allegations

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Woman faces criminal charge in theft of $500 in team funds

By AJ Vicens

The coach of the Dakota Ridge High School poms team was fired June 1, just days after the Jeffco sheriff's office charged her with stealing team money.

Jessica C. Rosecrans was charged with theft May 29. She is suspected of spending about $500 of team money on personal items, including shoes, sunglasses and clothing.

The thefts are alleged to have occurred last summer. The criminal charge and firing culminate a year of turmoil for the school’s poms team, during which complaints about Rosecrans were lodged by parents and by the booster club’s former treasurer, and more than half of the team’s members quit.

Rosecrans, 28, wouldn't comment on the charge or any other allegations when reached by phone, citing the need to confer with her attorney.

The former treasurer, who says she discovered the thefts, said she told school administrators about the problem last August, and the administrators assured her that Rosecrans would pay the money back. The treasurer said she also was told by Dakota Ridge assistant principal Michelle Jeffords that if she continued to press the issue, the school would disband the poms team.

District spokeswoman Lynn Setzer and Community Superintendent Holly Anderson would not facilitate access to Jeffords and Dakota Ridge principal Jim Jelinek to answer questions. They say the situation was handled correctly by school officials, who conducted an audit of poms funds at the end of 2008.

"When we looked at the books, there was no money missing from the booster club funds," Anderson said.

The district says the sheriff's office subsequently was able to assemble more alleged evidence and so decided to file charges.

"The coach did return the money that she had," Anderson said. "She gave us different reasons for why she had the money. We talked to absolutely everybody who would talk to us. We collected all the evidence we could possibly collect, and for us it came back inconclusive."

The boosters’ former treasurer, who spoke for this article on the condition her name not be used, claims school administrators failed to interview a student who witnessed an improper use of funds.

In a March letter to parents about the district's investigation, Anderson said Rosecrans provided bank records to prove she didn't steal any money, and that the school would begin routing all poms funds through school activities accounts.

Other allegations

In addition to the alleged financial irregularities, several parents accused the coach of fostering an unprofessional team environment. Those parents say they reported several questionable incidents last summer and into the 2008-09 school year.

The parents allege that Rosecrans called several girls derogatory names. One alleges that Rosecrans failed to show proper concern when her daughter was having an asthma attack and accused the girl of faking.

"They chose to do nothing," said one parent whose daughter was a part of the poms team at the time.

Anderson said the school district took the proper action any time a complaint was lodged.

"We can't talk specifically about what happened with any of the specific girls," Anderson said. "Every incident that we were told about, we reacted to. Appropriate procedures were followed, and things were addressed with the kids. Some of the things we simply weren't told about."

As tensions grew, school administrators met with parents. In October 2008, Jeffords issued a letter to the poms members and their parents.

"It is becoming very clear that Dakota Ridge HS needs well defined policies that all squad members (and their parents) need to understand and adhere to," Jeffords wrote.

The parents and students were required to sign and return the letter four days after it was issued. A short time later, nine of the 16 girls on the team quit.

Part of the October 2008 letter to parents was a discussion of disbanding the team, a course several parents said they were threatened with between summer and fall 2008.

In the letter, Jeffords wrote: "We seriously considered disbanding the pom group." Later in the letter she said: "I am very proud of our pom athletes and would be very disappointed if we have to disband our program due to ongoing turmoil."

"There was never any intent to disband the program," Anderson said. "There were some hard conversations. There was some worry at some points through the year about whether the program would continue to be viable. People hear conversations very differently."

In a later interview, Anderson said the quotes from the October 2008 letter are evidence of the "hard conversations," and that implying they represent threats to disband the team are unfair.

Some parents support coach

At least two parents say they had heard the allegations of theft, name-calling and unprofessional behavior by the coach, but say the critical parents overreacted.

A father of one of the girls who stayed on the team said Rosecrans had a long way to go as a coach, but that she was getting there and doing fine. He wouldn't share his name for fear that his daughter would face negative consequences.

He said he would have stepped in "in a heartbeat" if he thought his daughter's safety or well-being was in jeopardy, but that was never the case. He said some parents of team members were too quick to criticize the coach when she would push them to work harder to get better.

Still, even though Rosecrans has been fired and faces a criminal charge, the three parents who led the way in lodging complaints about Rosecrans say school officials’ failure to act was the worst the worst part of the experience.

"Their money was stolen," one parent said. "Everybody is aware of that, and nobody did anything except ask (Rosecrans) to give the money back. That's a really good lesson I want my school teaching to my kids."

Setzer said emotions have run high on both sides of the issue.

"Whenever parents feel strongly about something, you have a lot of he said/she said kind of stuff,” Setzer said. “It's so clouded with emotion at this point, I'm not sure there's a good resolution to what exactly happened."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.