Barrack Coach’s Past Leads to Firing, Questions

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The basketball coach's past drug connection was revealed after he testified in a case against Philadelphia narcotics officers.

When Rabbi Mira Wasserman’s son started at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy as a junior this school year, he didn’t know many people and “basketball was a huge part of integrating him into the community,” she said.
 
The coach, Robert Kushner, “was very generous with his time and energy and was really encouraging” to the players, said Wasserman, a professor at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote who just moved to the area from California with her family last summer. 
 
Even though he was only a seasonal employee, Kushner attended pep rallies. And after the boys’ season had already ended this year, he drove to Pottstown to watch the girls’ basketball team play in the Tri-County League championship game.
 
"I think he took his job very seriously, and he was a good coach,” said Sharon Levin, head of the pluralistic Jewish day school in Bryn Mawr that serves middle school and high school students. 
 
What Levin, Wasserman and others at Barrack did not know about Kushner was that he had run-ins with the police in 2007 and 2011 over allegedly selling marijuana. The news only came to light earlier this month, after Kushner testified against six Philadelphia narcotics officers who were suspected of stealing money and drugs from the suspects they arrested.
 
Kushner testified March 31 that the officers stole more than $80,000 and seven pounds of marijuana from him during his 2007 arrest, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. The charges against Kushner were later expunged, but then he was arrested again in 2011 for possession of drugs with intent to distribute and was sentenced to four years probation.
 
The school first learned of Kushner’s arrests from the reports of his testimony in the high-profile case. He was fired immediately.
 
“There had never been any inkling of this,” said Levin. When the school hired Kushner in 2010, nothing came up on the background check, Levin said. “Obviously, if we had known, he would have been gone immediately.” 
 
In addition to new hires, the administration is now running background checks on every employee and plans to check volunteers as well, Levin said. She said she sent a letter out to parents and has had a few people call to ask when the school first learned of Kushner’s past.
 
She said Kushner, who could not be reached for comment for this article, asked the school’s athletic director to meet, and he apologized. “I’m very sorry, and I want the best for the kids,” Kushner told the Inquirer.
 
Kushner had been popular with players, according to students and parents. 
 
“I don’t know enough about whether he’s put that part of his life behind him or not to know whether it was right for him and safe for him to be teaching and coaching,” said Wasserman. She said she doesn’t want someone “who’s involved in criminal activity to teach or coach my kids, but it was a great beginning at the school for us thanks to him.
 
“He has a lot of good to offer, and I’m hoping that sometime in the future, he is able to contribute in the community again.”
 

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