Pressure from parents led to firing of girls water polo coach, lawyer says

Palo Alto High School
Palo Alto High School

BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer

Doug Stotland was fired as girls water polo coach at Palo Alto High School because a player’s parents pressured school administrators after he attempted to discipline the player, the coach’s lawyer told the Post.

“The evidence is that he was terminated of the heavy handedness of one set of parents who were irrational and forceful with the school administration,” said attorney Todd Emanuel of San Mateo.

Stotland, who had coached the girls team since 2017, has not sued the district but is seeking re-instatement, said Emanuel.
Emanuel said Stotland was told that he is an “at will” employee — meaning he could be fired at any time without a reason — and that his service was no longer needed.

The trouble began in May, when one of the team members asked to have a routine meeting with Stotland about how she could improve as a player, according to Emanuel. During the meeting the student seemed upset. Stotland asked if she wanted to stop but she said she wanted to continue, Emanuel said.

Emanuel said it is not clear why the student was upset, but speculated it might have been because she wanted to be a team captain and that was “not in the cards.”

The player habitually bullied several other players on the team and sometimes refused to participate in plays during games, said Emanuel. After the meeting between the player and Stotland, the school administration told him he was not allowed to talk to the player and that she was allowed to leave practices whenever she wanted if she felt uncomfortable, said Emanuel.

Other players were upset that the coach had no authority over the player, he said.

At a game this month the player “caused quite a bit of difficulty” and Stotand suspended her. A few days later he was fired, said Emanuel.

The player’s parents are wealthy and have donated money to the school and specifically to its aquatics center, according to Emanuel.

“We don’t blame the player. We blame the school administration for bowing to the pressure,” said Emanuel. “He loves coaching water polo, he loves the kids, he loves the families and he was and is a very devoted coach. He is fighting this because he was terminated for reasons that have nothing to do with his performance or moral character.”

Members of the water polo team wore pink caps instead of their school caps and passed out fliers criticizing the termination. Emanuel provided the Post with a copy of a flyer.

“We were not respected or supported in this process, and we have seen that only the viewpoints of a select few platers and families have been heard and acted on,” reads the flyer.

What’s the school administration’s side of the story? Paly Principal Adam Paulson and Athletics Director Nelson Gifford did not respond to requests for comment Friday evening.

Stotland previously worked for Facebook and has a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, according to his Linkedin page.

8 Comments

  1. The coach deserves an award for trying to impose a bit of discipline on an entitled, overbearing bully. His firing sets a precedent for everyone else at Paly — money talks!

  2. [Portion deleted – we don’t want to identify the juveniles involved unless they decide to come forward] just couldn’t handle that her daughter wasn’t the star and the coach didn’t put her on a pedestal.

    School caved because she brought in lawyers. Easier to fire a coach than deal w/ the lawyers.

    Funny how they never fired the Gunn Robotics teacher or any admin involved in the Robotics fiasco or sexual assault.

    It’s not that Stotland was an “at will” employee, it’s that he doesn’t have the union to back him up. School would never do anything against the unions.

  3. Life is uncomfortable, there is no option to leave whenever you encounter difficulties and unpleasantness, if anything it’s a great opportunity to thicken your skin and learn. If we were talking about a private school it would just be a stupid annoyance, for this to happen at a public school is unacceptable. From the title and lead you’d think there was some illicit behavior or corporal punishment involved, here’s a more accurate description: “Entitled Brat’s Parents Fire Devoted Public School Coach”

  4. This firing is sickening. It sends the message to the kids that if you’ve got money and clout, the rules don’t apply. Paly should be sending exactly the opposite message and letting kids know that they need to respect their coaches. What a bad principal!

  5. This is only one side of the story. The school administration is limited in what information they can release due to student privacy rights and the fact that they are the employer of the coach. The lawyer is spinning the story to sensationalize school affairs which the community falls for every time. Imagine if every time in an organization a manager terminated an employee it was a news headline. That is what is sickening to me. I trust that there was cause to terminate the coach.

    • It’s a headline because high school coaches are rarely fired, especially mid-season. Players all showed support for the coach, which is rare if there is a “performance” issue as the district states. This is not a case of the majority of the team not liking the coach, or the coach treating players unfairly. This boils down to one player and her overly involved parents that filed two UCP complaints, both of which were dismissed. Parents brought in lawyers. Special treatment was arranged for the player that event he AD didn’t agree with. School trying to find anything they could to fire him to appease the parents.
      I’m not a big fan of the school or the district, but this is clearly a case of parents bullying the admin because their little girl was upset that the coach didn’t think she was as good as her parents do.

  6. Sports and politics. A group of Duveneck parents paid off the baseball coach (as in, a donation for the team) so their students would get more play time. Stanford admits from Paly? If parents aren’t alums or profs, they are working at Stanford and have ties. Corruption everywhere. Operation Varsity Blues was no surprise. Epstein? He knew too much, was murdered. Politicians and blackmail are like peas and carrots.

  7. It seems to me there is a struggle with the social aspect of being part of a team.

    We all need to build in our kids’ resilience, ability to take criticism, adaptability, and a better attitude. These are some of the soft skills necessary not only to be successful but also fulfilled in life. Money and privilege can’t buy them.

    The heavy-handed approach seems to have backfired big time. Lesson learned, I hope.

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