SOUTH ORANGE AND MAPLEWOOD, NJ - The South Orange Maplewood Board of Education confirmed Monday that the recent suspension of Athletic Director Larry Busichio, along with other staffers, stems from “highly disturbing” actions related to the troubled Columbia High School (CHS) baseball program.

But it still stops short of stating what those actions involved.

TAPinto first reported on Saturday that Busichio had been placed on an indefinite paid suspension during the August 20 school board meeting, along with four other staffers, two of whom are believed to also be related to the baseball program.

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A statement issued Monday by the school district stated, in part:

As many in our community are aware, concerns were raised during the 2014–2015 and 2015-2016 school years about our High School baseball program.  During the course of a lawsuit now pending against the district, the Board was recently presented with highly disturbing information about the management of the program during those seasons which prompted swift and aggressive action on our part to assure a positive and wholesome experience for our student-athletes.   

The statement, which is posted in its entirety below, did not cite more specifics or name further individuals involved in the situation.

But it refers to the high school baseball program, in which several claims of bullying and intimidation were lodged against former head baseball coach Joseph Fischetti, who was not reappointed to the coaching position after the 2016 season and who is still a physical education teacher at the high school.

Fischetti was forced out of his coaching job two years ago after former players’ claims of bullying and has most recently been the head baseball coach at Newark Academy. Fischetti left CHS coaching ranks at the end of the summer of 2016 when the school board chose not to rehire him for the 2017 season. He has remained a tenured physical education teacher at CHS.

Fischetti’s CHS coaching departure ended a very lengthy and difficult time for the baseball program, which saw Fischetti accused of several instances of harassment, intimidation and bullying.

Those claims led to the hiring of an outside investigator in 2016 to look into the charges and the school board's decision to search for another coach for the 2017 season. One former student, David DeFranco, also filed a lawsuit against Fischetti, other coaches and the district claiming abusive treatment, which has yet to go to trial.

It is believed that that is the lawsuit referred to in Monday's statement.

Fischetti and former assistant baseball coach Matthew Becht filed their own lawsuit in June 2017 against the South Orange Maplewood School District claiming they were wrongly terminated and not given proper reviews. It named the entire board of education, former Superintendent John Ramos and Assistant Superintendent Kevin Walston as defendants. It also named Randy Nathan, the father of a former CHS baseball player who filed several HIB complaints against the coaches, as a defendant.

It adds that Fischetti, who was named head CHS baseball coach in 2013, was later exonerated by then-acting superintendent James Memoli. But when Ramos took over the district in August 2015 he reopened the issue and overturned Memoli’s previous decision.

Busichio has remained athletic director since the Fischetti issue occurred.

The school district’s entire statement is below:

Dear CHS Families,

As many in our community are aware, concerns were raised during the 2014–2015 and 2015-2016 school years about our High School baseball program.  During the course of a lawsuit now pending against the district, the Board was recently presented with highly disturbing information about the management of the program during those seasons which prompted swift and aggressive action on our part to assure a positive and wholesome experience for our student-athletes.   

Unfortunately, we are limited by law in what we can disclose to the public at this time, but we can report the following:

  • The baseball program has had new leadership since the Spring of 2017; and
  • The District has, over the last two school years, devoted considerable resources and training for Administrators, staff and coaches in the prevention, investigation and response to instances of harassment, intimidation and bullying (“HIB”). This work and the creation of a positive climate for all students remains a top priority in the coming year. 

The District has already taken some additional steps we have felt necessary to protect our students going forward, and we may take further action in the future. We will release additional information as we are able to, but ask for the public's trust and patience as we move forward to address this sensitive and important matter.  

South Orange Maplewood School District

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