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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Staples Principal: Homecoming “Very Negative Experience”

At least five students at Westport’s Staples High School became intoxicated during Saturday’s homecoming celebration, prompting a plea from the school’s principal to parents to help him do something about it.WestportNow.com Image
John Dodig: makes plea to parents. WN file photo

“We can’t ignore…that portions of Homecoming have evolved into something very negative and potentially dangerous to our students,” John Dodig wrote in an e-mail Tuesday to all Staples parents.

“That is the part I cannot ignore or accept. Let’s make something positive out of a very negative experience.”

Officers tended to at least five intoxicated students—all females—in the Staples and adjacent Bedford Middle School parking lots prior to Saturday’s football game against Norwalk High School, according to police.

None of the students was arrested, although Westport EMS transported several of them to Norwalk Hospital. Police summoned parents of the others or gave them rides home. School officials said they would deal with the students administratively.

The text of Dodig’s letter:

“Dear Parents:

“Homecoming weekend has come and gone.The four days of Spirit Week went very well ending with a rousing Pep Rally out in the brilliant sunlight.

“As Principal of a school of 1,800 students, I could not have asked for a better Homecoming experience leading up to the game on Saturday.

“Each year planning for this event is a calculated risk. Should we provide an escape valve for pent up excitement and energy, even encouraging it with a pep rally, or avoid the possibility of mayhem by abandoning the experience altogether?

“The answer we’ve come to is that it is part of the American high school experience and at Staples can be done safely. It helps build Staples spirit.

“Saturday was Homecoming day. Most of our teams were successful over the weekend and our football team had to restrain itself to keep an astounding lead from becoming too wide. Coach P and our boys did a great job and I m proud of them.

“Here is the problem and the reason I am writing to you. Many of our students have learned very well the lessons they see on television each week when watching college and professional sports or when attending college and professional sporting events.

“It all begins with partying in the morning so they can have a good time. Every one of us who has attended a game at Yankee Stadium or Giant Stadium, Yale Bowl or any other large venue knows that drinking is out of control.

“I’m old and wise enough to be able to say that it has become an established part of our culture not easily erased. I’m not about to attempt that task. On the other hand, I am the Principal of Staples High School and charged with providing a safe place for your children to learn, socialize, and mature.

“When I know, with confidence, that drinking among a LARGE number of students WILL take place at the Homecoming Day game, why should I continue to support it? Has the whole idea of Homecoming become nothing more than an excuse to drink and behave badly?

“Sending several girls to the hospital for being intoxicated and endangering their lives is serious business. We will start planning for Homecoming well before the event next year.

“In the meantime, however, I need your support, help, and input. It was truly unfortunate that we administrators had to make calls to parents to either pick up their children at Norwalk Hospital or to come to the school to bring them home.

“There were MANY more who had been drinking but who were not caught because they didn’t pass out or vomit. A walk into the stands left NO doubt that lots of alcohol had been consumed before the game (drinking in the morning?).

“There was little or nothing we could do at that point without causing a riot. But there are questions I have to ask before we decide whether or not to repeat this event next year.

“Here are a few: 1) Can parents do more to monitor what their children are doing before the game? 2) Should we breathalyze each student we suspect has been drinking?

“3) Should we simply accept that drinking will take place, ignore it, and simply tend to the sick? 4) Should we have seniors sign the same contract they sign before prom but use it to cover ALL school events and have underclassmen sign a similar contract with different consequences?

“I look forward to hearing from you about this matter. I will bring it up as a topic of discussion at our PTA Coffees this year. I will be speaking to students about this matter. I will consult with teachers and administrators about their feelings.

“The bottom line is, as you’ve heard me say many times, that we want students to like Staples. We want them to have occasional fun and let their hair down. Halloween dress up is an example of that kind of activity.

“We can’t ignore, however, that portions of Homecoming have evolved into something very negative and potentially dangerous to our students. That is the part I cannot ignore or accept. Let’s make something positive out of a very negative experience.


“John Dodig”


Posted 09/30/09 at 11:50 PM  Permalink


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I can only laud Principal Dodig for his efforts to reach out to parents to tackle this not uncomplicated issue.

Posted by Joe Witz on October 01, 2009 at 01:30 PM | #

SIN…Stop It Now…Expulsion should do the trick.

Posted by Rich Groblewski on October 01, 2009 at 02:17 PM | #

It would be good for all students to realize
    “What you are to be, you are now becoming”.
  Some day when young drinkers age, and are lying face down in a gutter, who is going to pick them up?

Posted by Ann Marie Flynn on October 01, 2009 at 02:28 PM | #

I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for this, but while I do not condone excessive drinking, it seems many kids have to learn for themselves, rather than taking their parents’ word that this is a bad idea. I think it is better they learn in high school while there is a support system in place, rather than away at college. There should clearly be consequences for their behavior, but expulsion from school seems a bit harsh. Despite Ann Marie’s comments, most kids who get sick drinking in high school do not end up “face down in a gutter” but rather learn that they should either not drink or should moderate their drinking.
Kids with a drinking problem should be treated for the addiction. Most, however, are just ordinary kids testing limits.

Posted by Meg Lepisto on October 01, 2009 at 03:11 PM | #

Could someone please confirm the legal drinking age in this state?

Posted by Rich Groblewski on October 01, 2009 at 03:30 PM | #

To acknowledge the rhetorical question, the drinking age in most (all?) of the country is 21, and has been for ~20 years.  Which means that most of these kids are not getting their booze from older siblings, but adults/parents. 
Most of us know that teens need structure and limits.  If they are now so brazen to be drunk at a public event in the middle of the day, I would guess that these have not been in place for quite some time.
My preferred respose is to suspend their drivers licenses - most of the kids arrived by car - did they have “designated drivers”?.  This will get the message to the kids and parents at the same time.  Do you have to be in the car to be charged with DUI, or the is it sufficient to have driven your car to a location where you are drunk?  Expulsion takes the student out of school, which is not the desired effect.

Posted by Dan Lasley on October 01, 2009 at 05:00 PM | #

suspension and expulsion are not the answer-  what if the parent doesn’t have the means for an alternative education and sitting home for a few days if not supported and monitored by the parent is just an opportunity to surf the net.  I like the idea of a contract - I will not drink at school sactioned events-  if i do i clean the toilets for a week. I signed a contract when i swam for Staples and imagine coaches still have stuff like this in place- make it for the whole student body.

Posted by kirsten woods on October 01, 2009 at 05:25 PM | #

To Dan -

One must be in operation of a motor vehicle (sitting in it witht he keys in the ignition has been found to be sufficient) in order for a police officer to successfully arrest the person for DUI.

The principal of Staples HS, or any other non-LEO, does not have such power.

Dodig’s open letter is honest and invites a dialogue, which he has helped to frame, regarding ow the school should approach this event next year. I applaud his work.

Posted by Jack Whittle on October 01, 2009 at 05:50 PM | #

This is not about cutting class…its about underage drinking…its about breaking the law…its about accountability…its about respect. 

A slap on the wrist will help nobody, not the child, not the parents, not me or my family if (God forbid) they get plowed into by an underage intoxicated driver. 

No, this isn’t about underage drinking and driving, but make no mistake, that is the next chapter in this story.

This is serious stuff and needs to be managed by serious measures.

Posted by Rich Groblewski on October 01, 2009 at 05:58 PM | #

To All,

My goal in sending out a letter to 2,000 parents was to begin a discussion on this topic AND to get as many people as possible to agree that this is a community/family matter not simply a school matter. I can tell you that ALL of the emails I have received (closing in on 200) have all agreed that this is a community and family responsibility and that my folks should not have to deal with huge numbers of students behaving as they did. Something good will come of this. Westport raises good kids. I have confidence in the outcome.

Posted by John M Dodig on October 01, 2009 at 07:33 PM | #

Underage drinking in the morning is bad enough, but really not much different than all the kids that drink and get drunk every friday and saturday night in our town.  We all know it is happening.  What makes drinking at night any less of an issue.  If you are under 21,and you are drinking, it’s against the law.  All the early morning drinking says to me is that the problem in town is bigger than you think.  And to think it’s a “homecoming” issue is to skirt the issue.  It happens every weekend.  Now i guess we realize that it’s just not at night anymore. 

Maura Marden

Posted by Maura Marden on October 02, 2009 at 12:51 AM | #

I hope this discussion isn’t over…

Posted by Dan Lasley on October 05, 2009 at 04:57 PM | #