Houston ISD trustees vote 4-3 to reinstate Bellaire HS baseball coach Nick Ozuna

He was under fire for allowing a player's alleged racist taunt - monkey sounds - to go on unchecked.

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Friday, April 21, 2023
Reinstated coach could return to Bellaire HS as early as next week
Nick Ozuna, who had been under fire over allegations of racist acts among his Bellaire High School players, was reinstated back into Houston ISD.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A Bellaire High School baseball coach, who was removed from his job after parents say he allowed monkey noises to be made in his dugout, won reinstatement on Thursday, more than a year after the alleged act.

Nick Ozuna had been fighting to return to his role at Bellaire High since he was placed on leave in March 2022 and then reassigned away from the campus he worked for almost 20 years. Ozuna's grievance was up for a hearing during Thursday's Houston ISD board of trustees meeting.

A split board voted 4-3 to approve reinstatement.

"It's disheartening. It's truly disheartening," Erica Rhone said.

For the past year, Rhone has joined local civil rights groups in fighting to keep Ozuna from coaching baseball at Bellaire High School.

Rhone said Ozuna discriminated against her son in a separate incident before she pulled him from the team, and the decision to reinstate him is traumatizing.

According to Rhone, her son was discriminated against for his afro hairstyle.

"We're still seeing a therapist behind this, because it's so disrespectful. It's disgusting," Rhone told ABC13 on Thursday.

The Ozuna controversy stemmed from a game between Bellaire and Westbury High School on March 25, 2022, when several parents and players on the Westbury side alleged players in Bellaire's dugout made monkey noises and used racial slurs toward the Westbury pitcher, who is Black.

A video taken postgame shows a man, who was described as the father of the pitcher, yelling at Bellaire coaching staff about the alleged slurs. HISD police could also be seen on video trying to keep the two sides apart.

Since then, Ozuna denied allowing or condoning any racial slur.

Ozuna's attorney, Chris Tritico, told ABC13 that they claimed HISD's investigation into the allegations was flawed and set the coach up to lose his grievance.

"The board agreed with us that the investigation was flawed, that they have no policies ensuring a fair investigation, and that because of the flawed investigation and lack of polices, the investigation was targeted to make sure that he lost," Tritico said.

Now, with approval from trustees Kendall Baker, Bridget Wade, Sue Deigaard, and Elizabeth Santons, Ozuna will get his head coach title back as soon as next week.

It's a decision Rhone worries will lead to more issues for Black players.

"These kids say and do things because of the culture," she said. "The leadership is not taking ownership and truly leading the way they should and need to lead these children."

Ozuna declined to speak with Eyewitness News through his attorney, but Tritico said he's ready to get back to his dream job and rebuilding Bellaire's baseball team.

In addition, Tritico said the negative findings will be taken out of his client's personnel file, and an open letter will state that Ozuna has not engaged in racist or discriminatory behavior against students.

SEE ALSO: 13 Investigates: HISD's Field of Dreams comes at time others are lacking

As some fields overrun with grass and weeds, 13 Investigates takes a look at millions spent on a Houston ISD baseball and softball field.

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