After deliberating for more than three hours, the Maine Township High School District 207 school board Thursday night fired a second Maine West High School staff member, freshman soccer coach Emilio Rodriguez, for not doing enough to stop hazing at the school.
A tenured teacher in the applied arts and technology department, Rodriguez has been suspended without pay while the dismissal process is pending. He was earlier banned from school premises and relieved of coaching duties.
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Rodriguez's dismissal comes more than month after the school board fired Maine West head boys varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo after allegations that senior members of the soccer team hazed freshman teammates.
Two 14-year-old freshman members of the varsity boys soccer team claim they were sexually assaulted inside the school on Sept. 26 as part of a hazing ritual, according to police. Five juveniles subsequently were charged with misdemeanor battery, and a sixth juvenile was charged after police uncovered evidence of another attack they say occurred during a summer soccer camp. The Cook County state's attorney's office is reviewing the charges and has issued subpoenas to District 207 to turn over documents.
Initially, Divincenzo, Rodriguez, and three other coaches were reassigned with pay.
"The board believes Mr. Rodriguez violated District 207 board of education policy and professional expectations by failing to adequately prevent, recognize, report and punish student hazing," school board President Sean Sullivan said, reading the board statement.
Rodriguez has 17 days from receipt of dismissal documents to request a hearing before a hearing officer selected through the Illinois State Board of Education. The appeal process could take up to a year.
Divincenzo already has appealed the school board's decision with the Illinois State Board of Education and requested an administrative hearing on the matter, according to his attorney.
Meanwhile, four current and former students are suing the school district, Maine West, the school's principal, Audrey Haugan, and coaches Divincenzo and Rodriguez, claiming the practice of hazing has been going on in the school's soccer and baseball programs since as far back as 2007.
Plaintiffs' attorney Antonio Romanucci gave a statement earlier in the evening that he feels Haugan is being protected even though she knew about hazing at the school in 2007 and did nothing to reprimand the staff members who oversaw the baseball and soccer programs.
"You don't hear them say anything about principal Haugan at all," he said. "She was aware that there was abuse and did not stop it. Nobody is coming out and making any statements about her."
Romanucci said that's why the amended complaint filed two weeks ago names Haugan as a defendant and not just an agent of the district.
In firing Rodriguez, Sullivan stressed the school district is not conceding the accuracy of allegations made in the pending lawsuit.
The school board Thursday hired an independent investigator, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sergio Acosta, to look into allegations of hazing at Maine West. Acosta is charged with scrutinizing the district's policies, procedures, training and providing follow-up recommendations to the school board.
The board also hired a consultant, Community Matters based in Santa Rosa, Calif., to lead anti-hazing focus groups with students, parents and faculty members at its three high schools. The firm will study the policy, practice, climate, and culture related to bullying and hazing and make recommendations to the school board.
The district also plans to launch an online system to allow students to anonymously report and find adult help on bullying and hazing issues.