Allegations of hazing have caused the North Smithfield (R.I.) School Department to suspend all high school football activities until an investigation into the charges is completed.
According to two separate emails sent on Friday to high school parents by superintendent Michael St. Jean, the school received information on June 20 about hazing involving players on the North Smithfield football team during the 2021-22 school year. As reported by The Providence Journal, both emails say the allegations are serious and the school has contacted the North Smithfield Police Department, the Rhode Island Attorney General's Office and the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families.
The team is currently suspended from holding any official preseason workouts, practices or games. Football players are also prohibited from participating in any school-based summer sports, including summer basketball leagues, until further notice.
News of the emails was first reported by Northern Rhode Island News on the Web Now. After a request by The Journal, St. Jean forwarded copies of both emails but declined further comment. North Smithfield athletic director Matthew Tek also declined to speak, saying any comments would come from the superintendent’s office. A call to North Smithfield coach Jeff Paiva by The Journal wasn’t immediately returned.
According to The Journal, the 2022-23 Rhode Island Interscholastic League football season doesn’t officially begin with mandated activities until Aug. 15. According to the RIIL, football programs are allowed to hold voluntary practices from June 15-Aug. 14 with approval from school administrators.
In the email to football parents, St. Jean writes that North Smithfield Public Schools intends to conduct its own investigation into the hazing allegations following the investigations by police, the state and DCYF. In both emails, St. Jean writes: “We have directed the school district’s attorney to begin the process of engaging the services of an outside, independent firm to conduct a thorough investigation, the results of which will be made public upon completion.”
While most of the state’s football programs have started informal summer workouts, the Northmen will be on hold. In Paiva’s first year as head coach, North Smithfield — which co-ops with Mount St. Charles — went 1-5 in Division III last fall. The Northmen return several key underclassmen next season.
When North Smithfield is able to return to the field as a unit depends on the investigation and its results.
“We understand how important participating in athletics can be. However, given the serious nature of the allegations involving players on the football team, we must err on the side of caution in order to protect all of our students,” St. Jean wrote in the email to football parents. “That is why we have made the decision to prohibit football players from participating in athletics until these investigations are finished.”