Former Maine West soccer coach's firing upheld in hazing case

Updated 4/24/2014 6:35 PM

A hearing officer has upheld the firing of a former Maine West soccer coach dismissed by Maine Township High School District 207 last year for not appropriately responding to allegations of hazing.

Former freshman soccer coach Emilio Rodriguez, formally dismissed by the school board in January 2013, appealed his termination to an independent hearing officer a month later -- a process that tenured teachers may request under state law.

The hearing officer, Jules I. Crystal, conducted interviews at District 207 administration headquarters on Sept. 17, Sept. 24, Sept. 25 and Dec. 12. His 62-page written report, issued April 18, was released by the school district Thursday.

In it, Crystal writes Rodriguez had a "deliberate indifference" to reports from some freshman soccer players that two teammates had been hazed by members of the varsity team during a campus run on Sept. 26, 2012 -- and that Rodriguez "knew, or should have taken steps to know, what had happened."

As a result, Crystal says, officials had sufficient cause to fire Rodriguez.

"When the facts are viewed in their totality, Mr. Rodriguez's relatively passive reaction to objectively shocking conduct was not an acceptable response," Crystal writes. "Maine West, its students and their parents, have a right to expect more, particularly from an individual on whom young boys rely for support and guidance, and who plays such a critical role in their high school lives."

The hearing officer's report does say the school district didn't establish a "preponderance of evidence" to dismiss Rodriguez on the basis of failing to recognize or respond to a "climate of widespread, repugnant, and dangerous hazing." The report also states there wasn't enough evidence to suggest Rodriguez failed to be truthful during the district's investigation of the hazing allegations.

Rodriguez's attorney, Ralph Loewenstein, declined to comment on the hearing officer's report.

Rodriguez was hired as a full-time teacher in 2005. He became head freshman soccer coach in 2012.

The former varsity soccer coach, Michael Divincenzo, was also fired by the school board in connection with the hazing scandal. But Divincenzo dropped an appeal to his dismissal last year in exchange for legal representation in a civil suit brought by four current and former students against the two coaches, the school district, Maine West and the school's principal.

That case is pending in Cook County circuit court.

In January, Divincenzo was acquitted by a Cook County judge on criminal charges of hazing and misdemeanor battery.

District 207 spokesman Dave Beery said the school board plans to discuss and act on the hearing officer's report on Rodriguez's firing during its regularly scheduled May 5 meeting.

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