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Bethel School District coach resigns amid controversy over social media posts

Art Crate Field in Spanaway, where high schools in the Bethel School District share athletic fields for sports, including track.
Markelle E.G. Photography
Art Crate Field in Spanaway, where high schools in the Bethel School District share athletic fields for sports, including track.

For the second time in less than a month, a coach in the Bethel School District in Pierce County is out of a job after posting inflammatory messages on social media.

The latest incident involves a now-former track and cross country coach at Spanaway Lake High School. The district says Darin Bickford, who was not a teacher, has resigned. A former student and others tweeted screenshots of Facebook posts that appear to be from Bickford. The posts threaten gun violence and use vulgar language to denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement. Bickford did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The incident comes weeks after a wrestling coach left the Bethel district in late May after posting a photo of himself giving a thumbs up while someone else used a knee to pin him down, appearing to make light of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The coach told KIRO 7 News that he did not consider the posts to be racist, but Superintendent Tom Seigel said in a letter to families that he was in disbelief when he learned of the posts and that the district values diversity of everyone in the school community.

“Racism and hatred have absolutely no place in the Bethel School District,” Bethel spokesperson Douglas Boyles said in an email, after the most recent posts surfaced. “Equity is our school board’s number one goal, and ensuring all our students and staff are treated fairly and with respect is paramount to our mission.”

Demetrius Dove is 17 and just graduated from Spanaway Lake, where he was vice president of the Black Student Union. Dove said he was on the track team at Cedarcrest Middle School when Bickford was long distance coach there and that he never had any indication Bickford held these views.

“It is kind of shocking still because these are the people in our schools, the people who are coming into contact with us and with other people’s children,” Dove said. “If you have views like this, I just don’t think you should be around kids.”

Spanaway Lake is the most diverse of the Bethel district’s comprehensive high schools; 36 percent of the student population is white.

Dove said he’d like to see a bigger effort by the district to screen out people who harbor racist or extreme views. The district does have an equity and achievement director who investigates and mediates racial and other equity complaints and holds diversity training.

“I think (school staff) need to go through training and I think there has to be some sort of bias test that they need to take as well because you can’t teach children with these views because then you might end up indoctrinating them with the same views,” Dove said. “After that, it could just be a slippery slope.”

The protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd have led to activism among students nationwide. Students in Seattle successfully pushed for the district to remove police officers from schools, arguing the police presence creates a threatening environment for Black and brown youth.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.