Maine family sues over high school honor code

By David Sharp
Associated Press Writer / April 9, 2010

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PORTLAND, Maine—The parents of a Yarmouth High School student are challenging the constitutionality of the school's honor code for extracurricular activities after their daughter was suspended from her lacrosse team because of a photo that shows her holding what school administrators contend is a beer.

The federal lawsuit filed this week contends 16-year-old honor student's due process rights were violated and that the principal, assistant principal and a third school official displayed a "reckless or callous disregard" to her constitutional rights.

Michael Waxman, the family's lawyer, said the honor code allows the school to monitor and discipline students 24-7 regardless of whether they're attending school-sanctioned events.

"I don't feel comfortable with the school intruding into my home life or my kids' home life. If they do something on school grounds or at school-sanctioned event, they can discipline my kids. There's no doubt about it. But I'll handle my kids on weekends. I'll handle them at home," Waxman said Friday.

The girl's three-week team suspension isn't the first challenge of honor codes, which schools increasingly require students to sign to participate in everything from athletic teams to band to glee club.

In New Jersey, a similar lawsuit that challenges an off-campus drug-and-alcohol policy at Haddonfield High School is pending. That case focuses on a 15-year-old girl who was punished for an alcohol-related infraction over the Thanksgiving holiday. She was eventually kicked off her lacrosse team.

Yarmouth, like Haddonfield, is an affluent community. Yarmouth High School, which is about 12 miles north of Portland, boasts that 90 percent of its graduates go on to college.

Melissa Hewey, lawyer for Yarmouth schools, said the lawsuit in Maine raises no new legal arguments, and she said similar state and federal lawsuits have been rejected elsewhere.

"There have been in states all over the country disgruntled parents who've challenged those codes. They (the court challenges) have been consistently rejected," Hewey said.

In Yarmouth, the case arose after someone sent the high school principal copies of photos of students at a party where there was a case of Coors Light. The lacrosse player, who confessed, wasn't the only student to be disciplined as a result of the party and the photos, Hewey said.

Waxman said his client contended she was holding a can of soda, which was mostly obscured by her cell phone in the picture. He said she eventually confessed to holding a can of beer under questioning from the assistant principal. The administrator refused her tearful requests to call her parents, he said.

While Waxman described administrators' tactics as heavy-handed, Hewey insisted the honor code "is enforced consistently and compassionately."

Because of her suspension from the team, the junior will miss two important games and a team trip during April vacation, Waxman said. She's also being required to attend several alcohol counseling sessions over her and her parents' objections, her attorney said.

Waxman said he met with Yarmouth's superintendent with the goal of avoiding a lawsuit, but he said a promised discussion of the honor code never materialized. A hearing on Waxman's request for an injunction is scheduled for next week in U.S. District Court in Portland.

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