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Canton school district responds to 'demeaning' actions of McKinley High School football coaching staff, 'disciplinary measures' pending

Eight coaches, including head coach Marcus Wattley, are currently on leave after allegedly forcing a player to eat food that went against his religion.

CANTON, Ohio — The Canton City School District has broken its silence regarding an investigation into several members of its high school football coaching staff.

In a statement released Wednesday, Superintendent Jeff Talbert said the district has completed its inquiry into the actions of eight coaches accused forcing a McKinley Bulldogs player to eat food against his religion. According to Talbert, "the investigation found that the identified coaches engaged in actions that constituted inappropriate, demeaning, and divisive behavior in a misguided attempt to instill discipline in the student-athletes."

"This behavior will not be tolerated and further disciplinary measures for staff, which have not yet been determined, will follow," Talbert wrote, while adding that such discipline could come at a special school board meeting Thursday afternoon.

McKinley head coach Marcus Wattley and seven of his assistants were placed on administrative leave last week, and on Tuesday 3News spoke with the family of the student who was involved. According to the boy's father, the 17-year-old was forced to eat pepperoni pizza after showing up late for practice on May 24, despite the fact that staff knew he could not eat pork due to the dietary rules of his Hebrew Israeli faith.

"We’re just distraught by the whole situation," attorney Ed Gilbert, who is representing the family, told us. "We don’t understand how this could have happened. We want to get to the bottom of it as well, and if we have to go through a lawsuit to do it, then it's on."

The district also filed a police report with the Canton Police Department "in an effort to be comprehensive," but it is unknown if criminal charges could even be brought. From an employment standpoint, the board meeting that could decide the coaches' fate with the team will begin tomorrow at 5:30 from McKinley Senior High School.

"Let us be clear, the Canton City School District holds our coaching and general staff to the highest professional and ethical standards," Talbert said. "Anything short of these standards is unacceptable and will not be tolerated."