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2 Schools Crack Down on Athlete Misconduct

October 13, 1987|ANTHONY PERRY | Times Staff Writer

Even before the San Dieguito school board decides on a proposed code of conduct for all students, the district's two main high schools have cracked down on off-campus misconduct by athletes.

Torrey Pines High School has amended its athletic handbook to warn that students are accountable for their behavior "on and off the field, in and out of the season." Two athletes, the team mascot and a cheerleader have been suspended from extracurricular activities for drinking.

At San Dieguito High School, where the controversy first erupted over how much responsibility a school has for off-campus misconduct by students, football coach Ed Burke has meted out one-game suspensions to three players for breaking training rules.

Burke stuck to the rules even though it led to the team's first defeat of the year, a 31-6 drubbing Friday by Fallbrook High.

Message to Students, Parents

Robert Morton, assistant superintendent for the San Dieguito Union High School District, said coaches at both schools are trying "to send a message to the kids and their parents."

Morton said teachers and coaches feel stung by an unfair public perception that "they don't care what the students do as long as it isn't under their direction."

Meanwhile, a Leucadia family has slapped the San Dieguito district with a claim for $3,800 in medical, dental and counseling bills and $10 million in damages for pain and suffering for an alleged attack off-campus by San Dieguito High athletes.

Family Alleges Beating

Family members claim they were beaten June 25 in the driveway of their home. The incident was one of three alleged off-campus attacks that have led to assault charges against nine current or former San Dieguito athletes.

The Leucadia family's claim, which is expected to be rejected Thursday by the school board, is the first step toward filing a lawsuit, according to the family's Oceanside attorney, Michael L. Klein. Lawsuits against the individual athletes and their families are being considered, Klein said.

The claim--submitted by Tom Gabel, Michaela Murphy and their three sons--asserts that school district employees fostered aggressive, anti-social activity among the athletes, then failed to discipline them or report violent incidents to authorities.

In the wake of the three incidents involving San Dieguito High athletes, Supt. William Berrier last month proposed a code of conduct covering off-campus behavior for all students engaged in extracurricular activities.

Proposal Spelled Out

Under Berrier's proposal, a student could be kicked off a team or other campus group for fighting, stealing, drinking, drug use, profane or vulgar language, or destruction of property.

After hearing from both supporters and opponents of the proposal, the school board moved to refer the issue to a series of meetings involving parents, teachers and students at all six of the district's schools. No date has been set for the issue to return to the board.

Spurred by the controversy at San Dieguito High, Torrey Pines moved to put tougher language in its athletic handbook, which each athlete and his or her parents must sign before the student can participate.

The new clause says that: "All athletes are expected to be good citizens on and off the field, in and out of the season. If an athlete is suspected of deviant behavior at any time, he or she may be barred from participation in athletics at Torrey Pines."

To be Used Sparingly

Shawn Wirth, girls' gymnastic coach and athletic director at Torrey Pines, said the policy will be used sparingly.

"Frankly, I don't think we have the kind of problem you've seen at San Dieguito," she said. "If we suspect anything, we nip it in the bud. If we see kids acting as a group to harass other kids, or if we hear about drinking, we take action."

Wirth said she thought a similar policy might have helped San Dieguito High--an assertion denied by officials there.

"I don't want to make them look bad, but I think if they had acted sooner, they could have alleviated a lot of the problem," she said. "I strongly believe that. You could see it physically building to where it got."

Awaiting Board's Decision

San Dieguito High is waiting until the school board decides on the superintendent's proposal before making any changes in its athletic handbook. But coach Burke has suspended three players for off-campus problems, including two starters before last week's game.

"That's when you find out whether a coach has the courage of his convictions," said Athletic Director David La Borde. "Some coaches set the rules to fit the team. We prefer to set rules and then have the team adjust to them."

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