ALIQUIPPA — Fed up with the inner workings and citing a lack of internal support, Aliquippa Superintendent Dr. Phillip K. Woods resigned — effective immediately — from the WPIAL's Diversity Committee on Thursday, calling the committee, formed in 2020, "a farce."
In a letter to the 10-person committee, Woods expressed his frustrations with the committee and its inability to effect change. He also cited the lack of action regarding the November 2021 alleged use of racist, derogatory language by South Side players in a playoff game against Steel Valley, as well as the lack of support for Aliquippa's football program, which was bumped up to Class 5A by the PIAA earlier this week under the competitive advantage rule.
"When asked to join the Diversity Committee, I agreed to the appointment under the premise that it would provide consultation in matters involving the needs and disparities experienced by underprivileged youth and families," Woods' letter read. "The WPIAL board and its legal team is predominantly comprised of Caucasian males from middle to upper-middle-class environments. I was with the understanding that the Diversity committee would be able to provide a perspective and understanding related to the challenges and experiences of people of color, specifically underprivileged, low-income environments.
"When asked for support for the ASD's appeal, I was told repeatedly it was a conflict of interest to anyone on the committee and representative of the board to make a public statement acknowledging the dangers and disadvantages of the ruling. What is the purpose of the committee if it doesn't have a vote? What is the purpose of the committee if they cannot intervene or assist in times of need? What is the purpose of the committee if it can't acknowledge and or express their stance on matters of injustices and unfair treatment on the very group it was designed to protect?
"In my opinion, this committee uses the names and likeness of predominantly successful Black and Brown individuals to give the impression that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, (DEl) matter. It is a farce starting with the committee's inability to have a vote. Furthermore, the lack of the committee's involvement during the investigation of matters involving racial complaints such as the incident that occurred during the Steel Valley vs. South Side Beaver football game, demonstrates that it is a committee in name alone and excluded from matters that it was created to address."
Woods, who is from Aliquippa, became superintendent on Aug. 9 following the resignation of Peter Carbone. Woods was previously the principal at Woodland Hills High School for three years, where he was first named to the WPIAL's Diversity Committee.
Reached by phone Thursday evening by The Times, Woods addressed the resignation letter, which comes shortly after the PIAA's enrollment class realignments for all sports. Aliquippa will move up to Class 5A due to the PIAA's success formula. Aliquippa plans to appeal the move, hoping to remain in Class 4A.
"I would say this was the last straw," Woods told The Times. "When I first heard about the program and the initiative, I was excited and honored that somebody thought of me in that regard to be a part of the program."
Soon after Woods joined the committee, it dealt with an incident involving the Peters Township marching band, with at least two students from the Peters Township School District, which is overwhelmingly white, wearing black full-body spandex during the band’s pregame performance ahead of a matchup with Woodland Hills in 2020, upsetting many Woodland Hills parents, players and coaches. That incident ultimately led to the removal of the Peters Township band director, but Woods said after that incident, the committee has been on the sidelines, in a sense.
"I thought we were making progress, honestly, after the Peters Township incident, and then we spoke to athletes at Heinz Field prior to the start of the school year this year," he said. "But it still didn't sit right with me that we were sitting in all these hearings with parents, student-athletes and coaches, and we didn't have a vote on anything."
Woods said not having a vote, and then not receiving any form of support from other WPIAL members including president Scott Seltzer and executive director Amy Scheuneman regarding the "unfair, biased, and insensitive treatment inflicted upon the Aliquippa School District's football program by the PIAA" solidified his decision to resign from the committee.
"I had asked the WPIAL for support, and I even reached out to the committee for support, but I was told to wait for the official letter stating Aliquippa would be reclassified," he said. "Once I received that letter, I was told that the WPIAL was telling them they couldn't speak on the matter because it was a conflict of interest. Like I said in the letter, what's the point of having a committee if you can't advocate? What's the point of the committee if we don't have a say-so?
"We were just a committee to be present, in a sense. Again, I felt that the committee was going to be helpful to these types of situations, so to be told that we had a situation that was directly tied to diversity, equality and Inclusion — the direct reason this committee was formed — and to be told we cannot speak on it ... please help me understand that."
Woods said his decision to resign was one that was a long time coming. He said he was frustrated with the response and the role of the committee in issues that it was clearly created for.
"I feel like some of the people on the committee, their hands are tied because they're worried about their future," Woods added. "I'm worried about the future of my children (at Aliquippa). They're worried about their personal well-being and wealth; I'm thinking about my children's mental health and physical well-being. That's the difference between me and everybody on that committee or anybody in the WPIAL ... so now I have to attack this in a different way."
Woods closed his official resignation letter stating he was misled by the WPIAL's vision for the committee, noting that the group was created to give off the perception that the organization cared about such issues as diversity, equality and inclusion.
"I am disappointed that it has come to this point as I joined the committee under the false pretense that myself and other members would have the ability to address issues of inequity from the perspective of students of color," Woods wrote. "I believe this committee was created instead to create the perception that the WPIAL cares about such issues. I was clearly misled."
When reached for comment regarding Woods' resignation, Scheuneman provided an official statement from the WPIAL, stating that the organization believes the Diversity committee is a valuable asset to the WPIAL and has made measurable strides in awareness and education regarding diversity and inclusion.
"We respect Dr. Woods’ decision to no longer be a part of the Council and thank him for his time spent on the Council. In contrast to his statements, we believe the WPIAL Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council is a valuable asset to the League, schools and all student-athletes. In just over one year since its inception, the Council has made measurable strides in awareness and education in the areas of diversity and inclusion. Some noteworthy items include: Having a member of the Council present at all WPIAL Hearings and offer feedback to the Board; The Council was very involved in the League’s response to the Woodland Hills/Peters Township Band incident from 2020; The Council helped develop the new WPIAL Policy on Social Responsibility which includes important information for understanding terminology and resources for schools to access. Many schools have already taken advantage of this resource and are seeking trainings for students, staff and/or teams; Dr. Sheffield presented to our Board of Directors on the topic of Cultural Competency, which was well received, and his program has been implemented at several schools; Members of the Council presented a meaningful session on diversity during the WPIAL Sportsmanship Summit which received positive feedback from schools and students in attendance; The Council has met on numerous occasions to discuss other topics as well as future plans to incorporate in the coming years," the statement reads.
"One of our future goals is to work through the proper channels to allow members from this particular Council (and other similar groups across the state) to become voting members to their respective Boards and/or PIAA District Committees (currently they are not a recognized constituent group).
"Furthermore, the Council will be actively involved in the hearing scheduled between Steel Valley and South Side. To date, nothing has occurred for them to be involved with. The Council will also be involved with any remediation and/or education components that might come as a result of that hearing.
"Change takes time and commitment to the end cause, and we must take the journey one step at a time. I commend the individuals involved on this Council for giving their time and effort to help us take each of those next steps," the WPIAL added in its statement.
Additionally, Scheuneman added that in regards to the Aliquippa football reclassification, the appeal is open and active.
"The outcome has not yet been determined and our representatives to the PIAA Board will follow the appropriate process in showing their support and emphasize the need for a fair and impartial way of looking at the situation," Scheuneman said to the Times Friday morning. "Though this may not be the approach Dr. Woods was seeking, it does not mean we are not supportive."
This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: Aliquippa superintendent resigns from WPIAL Diversity Committee