The Schoolyard Lawyer: Bringing Balance to School Discipline Incidents ~ The Education Attorney’s Role


A recent high school hazing incident made its way into an article in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. David E. Frank, the managing editor of Lawyers Weekly, wrote an article critical of the Maynard High School superintendent and principal for their reaction to four football players showing up drunk to a school dance. Instead of disciplining those four players who actually did something wrong, the superintendent decided to cancel the Thanksgiving Day football game against Clinton High School, and in doing so, punished every single player on both the Maynard team and the Clinton team, as well the students from both high schools who were looking forward to the game.Frank’s article emphasized the fact that for the seniors on both teams, this game was the last game of their season— and for most— their career. Superintendents and principals across the state are reacting differently to these types of situations. The inconsistency in responses reasonably raises an issue of fairness for those who attend the schools implementing the stricter punishments. For example, at the same time this incident occurred, four football players from Agawam were suspended for hazing. However, the superintendent there suspended only those four players who were involved, forcing them to sit on the sidelines and watch the game. Instead of punishing all of the players on both teams and students from both schools by cancelling the game all together, the Agawam superintendent recognized the need to punish only the wrongdoers. Similarly, earlier this fall, five Needham High School girls were suspended from the soccer team for an alleged hazing incident. The superintendent there also only punished the girls involved by suspending them from playing in the championship game.

Frank emphasized the fact that any of the aggrieved parties could have engaged an attorney (perhaps pro bono) and sought a court order to stop the superintendent from cancelling the game. It is quite possible that the parents in this situation, and in other similar instances across the state, did not understand how an attorney might of assisted or, if cost were an issue, where they might have sought a pro bono attorney. Any of the students or their parents affected by the cancellation of the game could have had an attorney go into court seeking a court order preventing the superintendent from canceling the game. The attorney would have presented the facts to the judge, argued to the judge that only those who committed the wrongful acts should be punished, and asked the judge to issue a court order preventing the superintendent from canceling the game. Because of the time-sensitivity of the situation, this could all occur within a couple of days of the incident, allowing the other students to be able to participate in the game. However, sadly, because that did not happen, the biggest game of the year for these kids was cancelled all because of the actions of four players.