The attorney representing the families of four Maine West High School students who say they were hazing victims is upset over Maine Township High School District 207's decision to represent the soccer coach who is in the middle of that scandal.
Former head soccer coach Michael Divincenzo has agreed to a drop an appeal of his dismissal in return for the district providing an attorney through its insurance provider to represent him in the lawsuit, district officials said.
Divincenzo could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
Four current and former students are suing the school district, Maine West, the school's principal, Audrey Haugan, and fired coaches Divincenzo and Emilio Rodriguez, claiming the practice of hazing has been going on in the school's soccer and baseball programs since 2007.
"What once was an adversarial proceeding between Maine West and coach Divo has now evolved into a comfortable relationship where a back deal was made to continue benefits for the coach who allowed victims to be sexually assaulted and for him to cooperate in the pending lawsuit -- meaning that the district and the coach can now cooperate in further covering up and denying the continued allegations," victims' attorney Antonio Romanucci said in a written statement.
District 207 responded by calling Romanucci's statements "inaccurate and self-serving."
"The board does not concede any wrongdoing or improper conduct on the part of the district," the district statement read. "There is no payment or other consideration, except as stated in the agreement, and the school district will continue to cooperate fully with the Illinois State Board of Education, law enforcement authorities, the Department of Children and Family Services and any other proper entity regarding Mr. Divincenzo and allegations concerning the Maine West hazing matter."
District 207 school board members announced the agreement with Divincenzo in a statement read at Monday night's board meeting.
"One element is that the district continues to pay and provides health coverage to a certain day (Jan. 31, 2014)," District 207 spokesman Dave Beery said. "The two parties will cooperate in defending the lawsuit."
The agreement to drop the appeal formalizes Divincenzo's exit from the district and will ultimately save the district money and "avoid either party having to call students to testify for or against Mr. Divincenzo in those very difficult and lengthy proceedings," officials said in the statement.
Both Divincenzo and former freshman soccer coach Rodriguez were suspended without pay while the district pursued the dismissal process. Rodriguez, a tenured teacher in the applied arts and technology department, is continuing his appeal.
In September, two 14-year-old freshman members of the varsity boys soccer team said they were sexually assaulted inside the school by senior players as part of a hazing ritual, which led to six juveniles being charged with misdemeanor battery, according to police.
In his statement, Romanucci said the district dismissed both coaches based on "evidence of sexual misconduct," which was confirmed in an independent investigation by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and has prompted a review of allegations by the Cook County state's attorney's office.
In announcing their firing, the school board said both coaches "violated District 207 board of education policy and professional expectations by failing to adequately prevent, recognize, report and punish student hazing."