“Locker Room Incident” Discussed at Committee Meeting
By Michael McInnis Staff Reporter · November 17, 2011
School Committee member, Patrick Holland, expressed his concern at the conflicting accounts in regard to the so-called "Locker Room Incident", of October 14, which resulted in an Assistant Coach's firing. "What worries me," he said, "and what concerns many members of this community is that there is such a difference between the allegations that (have) been put forth and the official reports that are coming out of the school department."
In their first public meeting since the firing of Assistant Football Coach, Pat Cornelius, the School Committee and School Superintendent, Robert Tremblay, engaged in a sometimes heated discussion, regarding events following the so-called, October 14, "locker room incident".
Cornelius, who believed he was witnessing a "hazing" of freshmen athletes in the Milford High School locker room, was discharged for allegedly verbally over-reacting to the situation.
The administration has classified the student's behavior as "rough-housing". "Based on the evidence of the case ... it was concluded that the incident was not hazing as per Massachusetts law," Tremblay read from the official press release, which can be found on this page.
Committee member, Patrick Holland, said he had been contacted by many members of the community who "had a lot of misgivings about the way some of the events played out". First informed of the situation on October 21 by the Superintendent, who classified the event as "simply rough-housing", not "bullying" or "hazing", Holland became concerned when media reports seemed to contradict Tremblay's assurances. Holland said he and the community are concerned, "that there is such a difference between the allegations ... and the official reports that are coming out of the school department. They (the community) aren't sure what to believe and quite frankly, neither am I."
Holland attributed the uncertainty to "the fact that there was so little information that flowed forward on this," adding, "I think the community would be more confident in our behavior ...if they were assured that this wasn't a closed case and that this was going to be addressed fully and fairly."
Chairperson, Loriann Baranauskas said the Committee did not have the authority to investigate the incident, saying, "Our job ... is to assure that you (Tremblay) follow (school committee) policies... We do not have the privilege to (study) student discipline files and I can't draw a conclusion as to why (there's a) disparity between the coach's statement and the students' statements. I have no right to see either statement." She suggested the Committee would like to see a summary of how its policies were enforced.
Board member, Robert Lanzetta, said, he contacted the Superintendent for information on the firing and was disappointed at not "hearing from you for several days, until I inquired again". He added, "I didn't get the sense that it was taken as seriously as it should have been from the get-go, because I hadn't heard from you."
Tremblay asserted he did return the call, which Lanzetta said was voice mail recorded on Monday, October 24 "I want to know," Lanzetta continued, "if you ... at this point ... have all the facts and if you've examined the policies and the protocols that took place and (if there) is any corrective actions that need to be taken."
Tremblay said although, "the coach was terminated, it was not the first choice. There were other alternatives given. I'm not sure what liberty I have to speak of those alternatives. I reviewed the notes ... I've read from all the student accounts and the coachs' and the assistant coachs' ... and I rely on the high school administration (and) the athletic director and I trust their decisions. As I understand it from them and from the notes ... I believe this was not a matter of hazing."
Board member Patrick Kennelly said he did not care for the contradictory statements about the events in the media. "The problem ... is, we should have had a consistent statement and that is a PR problem, which I've addressed with you many times," said Kennelly. "You had multiple comments rather than just a singular (comment) ... (which) I think would have been a little more (effective in) closing the situation."
Concerned about the involved students, Baranauskas lashed out at the "bloggers" who she felt were "victimizing and terrorizing our students more than anyone in that locker room. It's a fact that there's a court of public opinion and it's not fair. If I'm sitting here and as Chairman of this committee (and) I can't render an opinion because I don't have the facts ... what gives the community the right to choose a side? Can you imagine how the student, the alleged victim and the alleged accusers feel, coming to school every day knowing what is being said (about them)?"
She appealed to those publicly voicing opinions without knowing all of the facts "to stop."
Tremblay's Locker Room Incident Press Release
School Superintendent Robert Tremblay released the following press release at the November 3 School Committee meeting regarding the events in the high school locker room, which resulted in the firing of Assistant Football Coach Pat Cornelius.
"In response to the concerns about the events of October 14th - more commonly referred to as the "Football Locker Room Incident" - I wish to provide the Milford School Committee and the general public with the following facts about the case-at-hand that I hope will take the place of rumors, false assertions, and conjecture that continues to play out in the print and cable media:
• There was an incident among Milford High School football players in the football locker room on October 14th which was thoroughly investigated by the Athletic Director, Milford High School Administration and the Safety & Security Supervisor - whom I will refer to as "The Administration".
• As part of that investigation, the Administration sought the advice of the Milford Police Department in making a determination as to whether or not the incident was illegal hazing;
• Based on the evidence of the case, including interview notes and eye-witness statements, it was concluded that the incident was not hazing as per Massachusetts General Laws;
• The High School Administration appropriately disciplined the students responsible for the incident in accordance with the Milford High School Code of Conduct in addition to team penalties which were also served by those students;
• The Administration was also informed of conduct unbecoming a coach employed by the Milford Public Schools;
• The Milford High School Administration and Athletic Director conducted a thorough investigation of the actions of the then Assistant Coach, which included multiple fact-finding meetings and eye-witness statements;
• As has been reported in the media, I will confirm that the former Assistant Coach was offered a number of alternatives, which he rejected, before his ultimate termination of employment. The Milford High School Administration has made its decision and stands by it.
• The administration is bound by law to protect the privacy of the students and its employees.
Please know that despite much public criticism, the Administration has not taken this matter lightly at any point in the investigation and has made every effort to make fully-informed decisions with the best interests of Milford students and the protection of their privacy rights always paramount. I cannot comment further on any details on this incident nor will I participate in a continuing publicity process which is so damaging to Milford High School students."