Westbrook High School students want to set the record straight.
In response to underage drinking charges last week against several student-athletes, and the controversy that followed the lifting of student-athlete suspensions in November, five students from the high school called a press conference Wednesday to say the school has been stained by the actions of a small group of students.
Hannah Smith, a junior, said a large majority of students want the community and state to know that “this is not our school, and this is not who we are.”
Smith said they want to point out the majority of students “who are making great decisions.” She added that when people meet her, there is usually a negative stigma that arises when she tells them she is a Westbrook student.
“When something like this happens, it’s very discouraging,” she said, pointing to school-wide efforts since November to combat problems. “It’s a definite setback, but it’s a teachable moment.”
Following two arrests and nine summonses issued at a party on Sargent Street last week, the school administration suspended seven students from their respective athletic programs.
Three members of the Westbrook High School varsity baseball team were among those charged following what police described as a “loud, large” underage drinking party held at 6 Sargent St. on April 22.
Ryan Gilligan, 18, was arrested for refusing to submit to detention/furnishing a place for minors to consume liquor. Collin Joyce, 18, and Tristian Savage, 18, were summonsed for consumption of liquor by a minor.
“With all the work that we’ve done, I said, ‘I can’t believe I’m talking about this,’” Principal Jon Ross said Wednesday, referring to when he first heard of last week’s incident. “It’s really unfortunate that a small group of kids are tanking the reputation of a great high school.”
Last week, Superintendent Marc Gousse said all the student-athletes either arrested or summonsed for drinking would not be taking the field with their respective athletic teams.
“Without question, nobody should be participating, and I want to be really clear about that,” he said. “Where this is going is accountability and enforcement of the code, period.”
Cale Bollig, 19, who was summonsed for consumption of liquor by a minor, was a 2012 Fitzpatrick Award semi-finalist for football. He graduated from Westbrook High in 2013.
Joyce is the son of Suzanne Joyce, the Westbrook School Committee member embroiled in the issue stemming from a party last fall attended by a number of Westbrook student-athletes. The athletes’ suspension, and the subsequent lifting of the suspensions, were at the heart of the widening controversy, with a report also pointing to Joyce for “school board member interference.”
Joyce said last week that her son had already “removed himself” from the baseball team for the season on the day following the party.
“I’m beyond disappointed, and he needed to remove himself,” she said. “We’re not going through any investigation process, he’s completely off the team.”
Smith added Wednesday that the minority “holds partying higher than their sports team or being an officer in a club. It’s frustrating, because the minority has set the majority back.”
Chelsea Rairdon, a sophomore, said Wednesday that the school needs to move on, but in a positive way, and draw attention to all the good things happening in the district.
“You’re not seeing kids participating in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, people working hard on the athletic fields, and being a good student-athlete,” she said. “There are a lot of great things being overshadowed.”
Coincidentally, the Westbrook Police Department conducted a random drug sweep of the high school Wednesday, something that occurs at least twice a year. Police Capt. Tom Roth said that nothing had been seized.
The School Committee’s policy committee convened Monday and discussed possible changes to the student-athlete policy, which was seen as a major contributor to the flawed November investigation, according to a report filed by arbitrator John Alfano.
Alfano’s report said a clause in the code of conduct, known as “knowingly present,” is “nearly impossible to enforce,” but also said it suffered from a lack of support from the school department to enforce the policy, which came from pressure from parents and others outside the department.
Ross said Wednesday that the proposed policy changes will remove the “knowingly present” clause and shift language to “put the burden of proof back on the student.” He said that with “knowingly present,” the administrator had to prove the student was at a party with alcohol present, and an updated policy will put more emphasis on students to prove they were not at a party.
Ross also said the other recommended policy change is to lessen the suspension time for a first infraction by two weeks, from the original four-week model.
Currently, first infractions are met with two weeks away from a sports team and two weeks without playing in games, but Ross said the new rules may also require counseling or community service, depending on the situation.
“Those first two weeks without any contact with a team could allow or cause a student to engage in more at-risk behaviors,” he said.
During the investigation last week, Police Chief Michael Pardue said officers encountered 12 additional people, all under the age of 21, in and around the residence on Sargent Street. Subsequent investigation determined that several had consumed alcohol. Others who were charged include:
• Briana Ibarguen, 19, summonsed for consumption of liquor by a minor.
• Brett Goodnow, 18, summonsed for consumption of liquor by a minor.
• Shawn McKeough, 19, summonsed for consumption of liquor by a minor.
In addition, three juveniles under the age of 18 were summonsed for consumption of liquor by a minor.
Ibarguen and Goodnow graduated from Westbrook High in 2013.
Roth said Wednesday that since the incident, Gilligan has also been served a summons for consumption of liquor by a minor.
Last year, 12 members of the Westbrook varsity baseball state championship team were sentenced to 40 hours of community service to avoid criminal vandalism charges after they celebrated their win at a home in South Portland near Wainwright Field and caused roughly $6,000 in damage to the field and equipment.