EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 16, 2013

Support builds for player who took drunk friend home

Critics: North Andover High volleyball captain should not be punished

By Paul Tennant
ptennant@eagletribune.com

---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Support from across the country is coming to Erin Cox, the North Andover High senior who lost the captaincy of the volleyball team after giving a ride home to a friend who had too much to drink at a party.

Email writers have criticized the high school for punishing Cox for doing what seemed to be the right thing: Getting her friend away from the party, where she had become intoxicated, and bringing her home. In addition to losing the captaincy, Cox got a five-game suspension from the team.

Two online petitions supporting Cox and calling on North Andover school officials to rescind her punishment have been launched, one of them by Carrie Hartwell-Lewchuck, an anti-drunk driving activist whose brother, Zac Hartwell, was killed by an intoxicated motorist two years ago.

Superintendent Kevin Hutchinson said he could not comment on a specific student’s case, but pointed out that the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association prohibits student-athletes from possessing, consuming or transporting alcohol.

Both Hutchinson and School Committee Chairman Stanley Limpert noted the district does not have a hardline zero tolerance policy, whereby a student is punished for being in the presence of peers consuming alcohol. Any student accused of an alcohol-related infraction is given the opportunity to state his or her case before discipline is imposed, they said.

Eleanor Cox, Erin’s mother, declined to speak to an Eagle-Tribune reporter last night.

Hutchinson issued a statement to the media which read, in part: “Over the past few days, North Andover High School, its administration and athletic program, have been the subject of scrutiny and criticism over a student discipline decision that the high school administration made relative to one of our student-athletes. Although we have been asked by several media outlets to respond to the allegations made against North Andover High School, our practice is to not comment on matters involving student discipline. This approach is consistent with state and federal laws that prohibit the disclosure of confidential student record information.’’

Michael Grider, of Knoxville, Tenn., wrote in an email addressed to North Andover school leaders: “I hope that one or all of you will step up as community leaders to send the message to our nation’s young people that they will not be punished for doing the right thing.”

Lynn Hood, of South Riding, Va., said North Andover High School Principal Carla Scuzzarella “failed to demonstrate empathy” in the decision.

Rick Lindholtz, a pastor from Byron, Ill., urged Hutchinson and the School Committee to overturn Cox’s suspension and restore “her participation in school life, sports, and leadership.”

Here is the complete text of School Superintendent Kevin Hutchinson’s statement:

Over the past few days, North Andover High School, its administration and athletic program, have been the subject of scrutiny and criticism over a student discipline decision that the high school administration made relative to one of our student-athletes. Although we have been asked by several media outlets to respond to the allegations made against North Andover High School, our practice is to not comment on matters involving student discipline. This approach is consistent with state and federal laws that prohibit the disclosure of confidential student record information.

Nevertheless, without commenting on any particular case, we want to clarify information about our disciplinary process and the policies and practices that our administration follows. The rules for student-athletes strongly discourage students from engaging in conduct that is unlawful or fails to promote the health and safety of the youth in our community. We do not have a “zero tolerance policy.” Each incident is fully investigated and decided upon based on the individual facts and circumstances. Our administrators are tasked with applying the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) rules pertaining to student-athletes and alcohol in a consistent and fair manner. To be clear, the MIAA’s, and by extension North Andover High School’s, “chemical health rule” prohibits student-athletes from possessing alcohol, in addition to prohibiting its use, consumption, or distribution.

While some may decry the administration’s actions as unfair or inconsistent with the principles of due process, our administration wholeheartedly disagrees. To be clear, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that participation in interscholastic athletics is a privilege. Rather than simply revoking the privilege, our administration has consistently afforded its student-athletes a reasonable opportunity to be heard before a disciplinary decision is made.

Although the news coverage has at times cast North Andover High School in a negative light, I continue to be proud of the excellent education our students receive at North Andover High School, the professionalism of the staff, and the fine character of the student body.