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Chicago Sun-Times

 

While a lawsuit alleging widespread hazing at Maine West High School lingers in Cook County court, school officials now say Maine West's principal reported early claims of abuse to the district's then-superintendent.

That disclosure is revealed for the first time from a hearing officer's decision released Wednesday that upholds the Maine Township school board's January 2013 vote to fire former freshman soccer coach Emilio Rodriguez in the wake of the hazing scandal there. School officials said the board will respond to the Illinois State Board of Education hearing officer's decision at its May meeting.

Former varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo also was fired - and criminally charged - over claims that school officials sanctioned a hazing culture where members of the boys' soccer team sexually abused their younger teammates by sodomizing them with fingers and sticks.

A judge found Divincenzo not guilty at trial. But unlike Rodriguez, he did not contest his firing.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit brought by five unnamed players once coached by the men still targets the former coaches, the school district and Maine West Principal Audrey Haugan.

Tony Romanucci, lawyer for the players, has accused Haugan of taking no action against Divincenzo when she learned in 2008 that baseball players he coached allegedly pantsed a younger player. He said she "either misrepresented or withheld information" about the alleged abuse.

But Haugan shared a letter from the boy's mother with then-Supt. Joel Morris and talked to a school dean, school officials told the hearing officer. She then purportedly followed up with Morris and asked that the boy be transferred.

Romanucci said Wednesday Haugan should have immediately called child welfare officials.

Additionally, school officials told the hearing officer they learned hazing in the soccer program was so widespread the students "knew where the sticks came from" that were used in the hazing, according to the report.

They also told the hearing officer the district faced so much media scrutiny at the time it hired a public relations firm. A district spokesman identified that firm Wednesday as Jasculca Terman.

April 24, 2014
 
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