A member of the South Portland High School football team was suspended from school Friday for what Superintendent Ken Kunin described as a hazing incident.

Kunin would not identify the student and said other disciplinary action may follow.

The suspension comes a day after school leaders detained the entire team and questioned them at length about suspected drug use among players, according to two parents of players.

The parents – both of whom asked to remain anonymous to protect the identities of their children – said Thursday’s unannounced meeting replaced practice and lasted about five hours.

The team was led into a school lecture hall and players were ordered to turn over their cellphones, the parents said. The doors were locked. Then, each player was questioned individually by school officials, including Principal Ryan Caron and Athletic Director Todd Livingston. Coach Steve Stinson was not there.

The parents said their children were grilled about drugs, specifically pills, being handed out in the locker room.


One parent was upset about how the situation was handled, not necessarily because school officials were asking about drugs, but because the students had to turn over their cellphones and he couldn’t reach his son for several hours.

The other parent had no problem with how the school dealt with the issue.

“I think we coddle these kids and are afraid to intimidate them,” she said. “I hope they were intimidated.”

Livingston, Caron, Kunin and others met at the high school Friday afternoon to discuss next steps. Kunin said the ongoing investigation is unlikely to involve police.

Kunin, in describing how school officials handled the situation Thursday, said the “safety of students always trumps everything.”

“We felt this was something that needed to be looked at very carefully and in a fair but quick manner,” he said. “The only fair thing to do was to question everyone.”


Kunin said cellphones were not confiscated, but students were told not to use them and to refrain from using social media.

Stinson would not comment about the suspension before the Red Riots’ 25-0 loss at Sanford on Friday night.

South Portland had won its first two games of the season, 18-14 over Bonny Eagle on Sept. 4, and 49-6 over Massabesic last week.

It’s not clear where the information about drug use came from or whether police were involved. South Portland Deputy Police Chief Amy Berry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Most schools, including South Portland, have athletic codes of conduct that prohibit drug use. In general, if students are found in violation of the code, they could be suspended or kicked off the team.

As far as searches go, students in a school setting don’t have the same rights as adults against warrantless searches. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 30-year-old case, held that if school officials have “reasonable suspicion,” they can question and search students.


Parents said players were warned not to talk about the meeting or the line of questioning or risk expulsion from school.

Kunin said he understands that parents might be confused or uncomfortable about what happened.

“Sometimes in the in-between we can’t share everything,” he said. “But they should know that we’re taking the steps necessary to keep students safe.”

Kunin said he hopes the department doesn’t have to deal with a similar situation in the future, but said he may instruct staff to better communicate with parents.


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