Morro Bay football coach fired over LGBTQ comments

Morro Bay High School head football coach David Kelley.
Morro Bay High School head football coach David Kelley. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Morro Bay High School’s head varsity football coach has been fired over comments made that were “insensitive” to the LGBTQ community, sources from the San Luis Coastal Unified School District told The Tribune on Tuesday.

David Kelley — previously the head football coach at San Luis Obispo High School who took over at Morro Bay in 2015 — didn’t coach the team’s last game Friday, and instead the athletic director stepped in. Kelley is still teaching at the school.

Principal Kyle Pruitt issued a letter to Morro Bay parents Tuesday, notifying them of “an unfortunate, and unacceptable verbal interaction that was insensitive to the LGBTQ community between a coach/teacher and a student athlete on our campus.”

The incident happened Oct. 24, according to the letter.

The statement doesn’t specifically mention Kelley’s name, but Pruitt on Tuesday confirmed that the incident involved Kelley.

It’s unclear specifically what took place, but Pruitt said in a phone interview with The Tribune that what happened “made me sick to my stomach.”

He said comments were made to a student athlete in the locker room that prompted other students to go to administration.

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“What I can say is the coach directed comments to a student athlete that would offend anybody in the LGBTQ community — actually they would offend anybody. I was offended when I heard it,” he said.

Pruitt said students approached him immediately after the incident, and that afternoon during practice Kelley was removed from the field.

“Our focus is creating a safe environment for kids and making sure the kids and the parents understand that,” Pruitt said. “I think this incident violated that, and it’s not OK. Especially not in front of the kids.”

Pruitt said the matter of Kelley’s future employment at the school would likely not be up to him but to the school’s personnel director as well as the San Luis Coastal Unified School District. At this time Kelley is not on paid leave, Pruitt said.

Head coach David Kelley leads a practice at Morro Bay High School football in 2015. He was removed from the job after using language insensitive to the LGBTQ community on Oct. 24. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

“I can’t control the actions of every adult on my campus, but I can create a tone and an area of inclusiveness, which is what we have been trying to do,” Pruitt said. “We need to be better than this.”

In his letter to parents, Pruitt said the district opened the year with an “all-staff meeting focused on equity and social discourse” in August.

“All employees were asked to reflect on their own beliefs and actions, and to decide if those beliefs, in the context of their responsibilities of a public school district employee, was best for all kids, regardless of their race, gender, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation,” Pruitt wrote. “We all were challenged to ensure that our schools were filled with tolerance, kindness, fairness, and care.”

Pruitt told The Tribune that the school held a meeting with football athletes and their parents Tuesday to “put closure on this season,” as well as discuss the plans for hiring a replacement.

Morro Bay High School’s former head football coach David Kelley at practice. tgibson@thetribunenews.com Travis Gibson

On Friday, the staff at Morro Bay High School will meet to hold reflection and dialogue, with the help of guest speakers from the transgender, disabled and health and wellness communities, an event that was scheduled before the alleged incident, Pruitt said.

San Luis Coastal Superintendent Eric Prater expressed his disappointment in an email to The Tribune on Tuesday.

“I am extremely disappointed and troubled by this incident,” Prater said. “We’ve made significant and intentional efforts as a school district to create safer, more inclusive environments for students and staff, especially our more vulnerable populations. This incident shows the distance we still must travel in order to accomplish our goals.”

Prater wrote that Kelley has since apologized to the students and impacted families.

“That is the beginning, I imagine, of Mr. Kelley’s genuine efforts to reconcile his actions with the MBHS community,” Prater said.

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