Yarmouth school officials Saturday said the school’s extracurricular honor code is reasonable, as is their enforcement of it, and a federal lawsuit challenging the code is without merit.

The school district filed court papers seeking to uphold the three-week suspension from sports of a 16-year-old girls lacrosse player who was pictured on a social networking Web site holding a beer.

“The Yarmouth School Department has the authority and obligation to discipline those of its students who violate its substance abuse policy,” read the district’s response to the lawsuit and to the girl’s pursuit of a temporary restraining order to block the suspension from taking effect while the case is heard.

Signing the honor code is required of anyone who wants to take part in an extracurricular activity, including sports and other activities, such as theater.

The issue arose after Principal Ted Hall obtained photographs from Facebook on March 8 showing 15 Yarmouth High School students at a party, five of whom — including the plaintiff in the lawsuit — were each shown holding a Coors Lite, the court papers said.

The five were questioned by Assistant Principal Amy Bongard, the court filings say, and the plaintiff admitted having a beer, a violation of the school’s honor code. The papers do not say what happened to the other students.

The family sued last week, saying the school’s actions and honor code did not allow for due process and violated the girl’s civil rights.

Michael J. Waxman, the family’s lawyer, argues that the school is reaching beyond its authority by policing children’s behavior outside of school, when parents are the appropriate authority.

In her affidavit, the girl says she was questioned for 20 minutes, was not allowed to call her mother, felt intimidated and felt forced into confessing.

Waxman sought a temporary restraining order, arguing that the girl would suffer irreparable harm if the discipline were allowed to stand while the case was adjudicated. The discipline calls for her to miss three weeks of lacrosse, including two games and a team trip during April vacation.

The school district lawyer, Melissa A. Hewey of Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon, cites case law that says that courts should not interfere in the daily operation of school systems and that students do not have a constitutional right to play sports.

Honor codes also are in the best interests of the public, the school declares.

“Honor codes proscribe illegal and inappropriate behavior, and encourage students to be model citizens,” the district’s court filing said. “Assessment and education after codes are breached helps students make better decisions about future substance use.”

Interfering with the school’s discipline in this area would “have the effect of seriously undermining the school’s authority over its students,” the papers said.

According to the district, both the girl and her mother signed the honor code and were aware of the penalties for violating it. The district also asserts that missing two games of lacrosse in a student’s junior year does not constitute irreparable harm.

The school’s response also challenges the assertion that Bongard, the assistant principal, interrogated the girl and would not let her call her mother until she had confessed and seen a substance abuse counselor.

“She did not badger, intimidate or interrogate she simply asked her what had happened and in response to her question (the student) frankly admitted that she was holding a beer,” the papers said.

A hearing is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday on whether to grant the emergency injunction on the suspension, which would allow the girl to play lacrosse while the case is being decided.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]