By Jonathan Bullington
4:58 PM EST, January 22, 2013
District officials could take further disciplinary action Thursday against another employee involved in allegations of hazing on athletic teams at Maine West High School in Des Plaines.
The District 207 school board has scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Thursday. One item on the agenda, listed as an “action on employee discipline matters,” relates to those hazing allegations, district spokesman David Beery said. He would not comment further on the item.
Freshman boys and girls soccer coach Emilio Rodriguez and school Principal Audrey Haugan have both been named in a lawsuit filed on behalf of four alleged hazing victims on the school’s boys soccer team. While Haugan has continued to serve as principal, Rodriguez is on paid leave.
School board members unanimously approved a resolution last month suspending without pay former freshman baseball and boys and girls varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo, another defendant in the civil suit. The district is pursuing his dismissal, claiming he witnessed varsity soccer players haze younger players and “congratulated” one victim before welcoming him to the varsity team.
Divincenzo’s attorney recently sent a letter to the Illinois State Board of Education requesting a hearing to appeal the school board’s decision, but declined further comment on the appeal.
Divincenzo could not be reached for comment. But the tenured physical education teacher in his 11th year at Maine West previously denied any knowledge of hazing or initiation rituals among team members, according to Des Plaines police reports.
Rodriguez told police he informed Divincenzo that members of the varsity team pulled down a freshman player's pants during a Sept. 26 practice, reports show.
After speaking with the freshman, Rodriguez reportedly sent a text message to Divincenzo saying, “Tell your guys to lay off my guys!” according to a police report. Divincenzo responded by saying, “Sorry I talked to them it won't happen again,” the report states.
Several days after interviewing Rodriguez, police questioned Divincenzo about the incident. He confirmed the text message from Rodriguez and said he made the varsity team apologize and do 100 pushups in front of the freshman team, according to the police report.
While doing pushups, some varsity players asked the freshmen, “Who snitched?” Rodriguez allegedly told police.
Rodriguez could not be reached for comment.
Last week district officials confirmed the receipt of grand jury subpoenas in the Cook County state’s attorney’s ongoing investigation. Officials reiterated their commitment to “cooperate fully with all agencies conducting their own investigations, including the Cook County State’s Attorney, Des Plaines Police and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
One subpoena, dated Dec. 6 and obtained by the Tribune, directs Maine West Principal Audrey Haugan to produce “personnel files, disciplinary records, reports, memorandums, summaries, interviews, investigations, notes, statements or other such writings or recordings for Michael Divincenzo and Emilio Rodriguez, and any and all other employees associated with coaching student athletes from 2007 to the present time.”
In another Dec. 6 subpoena, Superintendent Ken Wallace is directed to produce “any written materials describing or explaining” school, student athlete, coach or teacher conduct codes or rules, “or rules or any other similar such writings including but not limited to the topics of hazing, sexual misconduct or physical misconduct in any manner associated with Maine West High School.”
Wallace, Haugan, Maine East Principal Michael Pressler and Maine South Principal Shawn Messmer also received subpoenas dated Dec. 7. Those subpoenas, which were partially redacted, seek “any and all letters, emails, reports, memorandums, call logs, writings, recordings, or other such material regarding” redacted information, “including any such documents from within the school records or school file for” redacted information.
The district is expected to hire an outside attorney at Thursday’s board meeting to lead its own independent investigation into alleged hazing, as well as a consultant to lead focus groups with administrators, staff, students and parents to study prevention techniques for bullying and hazing.