November 14, 2013

Westbrook school troubled by rumored party, outcome

Allegations of curtailed discipline for student-athletes have some questioning accountability.

By Dennis Hoey
Staff Writer

WESTBROOK — The city’s school superintendent told dozens of residents and teachers Wednesday night that the school district is investigating allegations that students may have violated the district’s code of conduct at a gathering outside of school.

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Superintendent Marc Gousse would not be more specific about what happened, but a high school teacher who spoke at Wednesday night’s School Committee meeting and several parents said the misconduct was an underage drinking party.

The teacher and parents said several soccer players and football players were involved in the party, were suspended from their teams, then were reinstated just before Friday’s high school football playoff game, which Westbrook lost.

“Our code of conduct has been thrown out the window. There is no code of conduct at Westbrook High School and these athletes are not being held accountable for their actions,” Cari Sbardella, who teaches English at Westbrook High, said during the meeting’s public comment period. “They should be held to a higher standard (than students who don’t play sports) and currently they are not. It sickened me a bit, morally and ethically.”

It wasn’t immediately clear when the alleged drinking party happened, but Sbardella said after the meeting that five varsity football players involved in the party were reinstated just before team’s playoff game Nov. 8 against Kennebunk. Westbrook lost that game, 17-15, on a last-second field goal, so its season ended.

Gousse told the audience of about 60 people at the School Committee meeting that an impartial third party will do an internal review of the students’ behavior.

Martha Sumner, human resources director for the city and the school department, also will review the matter to make sure the school staff, especially the high school principal, athletic director and coaches, followed school policy.

High school Principal Jonathan Ross did not return a message left on his cellphone Wednesday night.

After the meeting, Gousse met with the media and explained his role and that of the School Committee. He never acknowledged that there was a drinking party or that Westbrook High athletes attended such a party.

He said he decided just before the start of Wednesday’s meeting to make a public statement in hopes of defusing rumors and speculation that have been circulating on social media.

“I honestly don’t have all the facts, but I can say that the high school administration’s job is to hold their students accountable for their actions,” Gousse said.

He said the code of conduct is a written policy that athletes are expected to follow. They are not required to sign the policy, he said.

“I know this type of issue can polarize a community,” said Gousse, who was principal of Westbrook High from 2000 to 2011.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several people asked the School Committee to explain what is happening.

“Can we find out what really happened? There are a lot of rumors on Facebook,” said Robert Luce, a Westbrook resident.

“Answers will be coming if you are not happy with what you hear tonight,” said committee Chairman Jim Viollette.

“We don’t know what happened. We hear rumors, but as School Committee members we must stay out of this type of issue,” Viollette said. “We have to be impartial to all the issues.”

Krista Martin and Mary Bernier, parents of high school students, criticized the school department for suspending the players and reinstating them just before the football game. Martin and Bernier said the internal investigation should have been done before the students were disciplined.

They said the school department’s actions came across as inconsistent and sent the wrong message to students.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or
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Today's poll: Westbrook athletes

Do you agree with the Westbrook School Board's decision to reinstate suspended football players prior to their final game?



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