As Principal Salvador Velasco tells it, a volunteer junior varsity coach named Steven Jovanelly approached students with a letter on Wednesday and asked them to post copies of it on the walls of the school to “create upheaval.”
Copies of the letter went up on school walls, but were taken down by school staff, according to Velasco, who had told the coach weeks if not months ago to “stay out” of the ERHS campus.
Here’s what the first of five paragraphs of the letter said, based on a copy Patch obtained from the school principal:
“Dear Parents and Students,
It is with the heaviest of hearts that I inform you that JV Zero Period is hereby suspended as our coaching staff will not be returning next season to ERHS. We have done nothing wrong whatsoever, yet Mr. Velasco refused to let us come back to continue teaching our student-athletes. This man is a liar, has abused his power repeatedly, and does not act in the best interest of our school, community, or students. He has successfully created an atmosphere of fear amongst the staff of ERHS, but we are not afraid and will not bow down to such a divisive, negative force.”
The letter, said Velasco, contains “many inaccurate statements.” It also violates an understanding that Velasco said he reached with Jovanelly following a conflict that the coach had in February with an ERHS physical education teacher named Roman Cisneros.
Velasco explained that “several incidents” occurred between Cisneros and Jovanelly. “I’m not at liberty to go through those personnel situations,” he told Patch. But an incident in February that appears to define the conflict is described in graphic detail in the letter that Jovanelly distributed to students and parents:
“I was fired from coaching football and basketball (after losing two games combined) in February 2012 because the PE teacher Mr. Cisneros was allowed absolute control over the weight room and we clashed many times over petty policies which prevented access to our teams. On February 3, Mr. Cisneros sought me out in the weight room and jabbed my ribs with a mop stick while I was working out. He then claimed I was harassing him at work. Velasco’s response was to fire me, without any evidence, saying I went looking for a fight.”
Velasco confirms that after the conflict, he told Jovanelly, “number one, not to create any more problems, and number two, not to trespass into our school because you don’t have a right to come into our school.”
The latter condition, Velasco explained, stems from the fact that “Mr. Jovenally is not an employee in our school, he’s not a teacher, he’s not a paid person— he’s what they call a ‘walk-on coach,’ somebody who comes from the street and can coach.”
Added Velasco: “And he got into a conflict with one Cisneros, who is an employee of the school. And because of this conflict, he was asked to stay out of the school until the end of June for two reasons: Number one, his seasons were over—he was a basketball and football coach, both seasons had ended, so there was no reason for him to be in school to create conflict. And number two, the employee had to be protected from this other person creating the conflict.”
According to Jovanelly’s letter:
“In response to Velasco’s unreasonable decisions, an anonymous parent letter of complaint was written to the District, which has brought negative attention on him [the principal] and does not bode well for his career … In short, he falsely believes I made the parent write the letter. On April 25, Velasco told Coach Josh the only way I can return is if we find the parent who wrote the letter and get them to retract their statement.”
Velasco told Patch he is not aware of any letter of complaint to the LAUSD.
According to an adult member of the ERHS community, which primarily includes parents and teachers, Jovanelly has a long—and strong—relationship with the school: Not only is he an ERHS alumnus, several of his brothers have graduated from the school as well—and one is still studying there. Further, according to the source, Jovanelly has worked as a substitute English teacher at ERHS, where his father is a full-time English teacher.
“He was a very good sub—very conscientious, very thoughtful, and had a good reputation,” the source told Patch on condition of anonymity.
Editor's Note: Patch is trying to reach both Cisneros and Jovanelly to get their respective sides of the story.
Patch will be following this story as it develops. Stay tuned.