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Oak Park Trustees Look to Tighten Field Trip Rules


OAK PARK — Amid the controversy that followed the suspensions of the football coach and 18 members of his team after a midsummer drinking incident, the Oak Park school board Tuesday night appeared set to adopt a new policy requiring continuous adult supervision of students on field trips.

Trustees also discussed clarifying their zero-tolerance policy to apply to only the most serious offenses, such as possession of a firearm on school grounds or sexual assault of a student.

About 75 parents attended the meeting, and most talked about the suspensions that came after the football team won a tournament in Santa Ynez in July.

The suspensions have stirred anger in this unincorporated community, drawing strong complaints from some parents who believe the football players should have been expelled for drinking alcohol after their victory.

Others in the community have protested that Coach Dick Billingsley should not have been held responsible for the behavior of his players because he was not present when they were drinking.

"Football tends to be a focal point," school board Vice President Jim Kalember said. "This whole thing has created just a little polarity, and the administration is in the middle."

At the meeting, parents called on the board to clarify the school district's policy on drinking and other offenses while others urged trustees to take Oak Park High to task for only imposing a two-game suspension on the players.

After the incident, Billingsley received a four-game suspension. The 18 players were suspended for two games, with the suspensions staggered over several games. Only nine players will miss any one game.

"They dishonored themselves and the community," parent Terry Siegel said. "It was disgraceful."

"Some in the community believe zero tolerance means that if a child makes a mistake he should just be thrown out," parent Lenore Lewis said. "These kids have been punished enough."

Supporters of Billingsley, including members of the football team, spoke warmly of him and called his four-game suspension unreasonable.

"I think what we've done to Coach B. was not appropriate and was definitely not fair," Ron Schneider, another parent, said.

Before the meeting, Kalember said Oak Park's discipline of the football players was appropriate.

"The school had a number of options here . . . and what they did minimized the impact on the football program," Kalember said.

In tacit recognition that board policy may have contributed to the players being without supervision, trustees discussed amending field trip rules to require the presence of a chaperon at all times.

Board member Linda Heizer Seman said she believes the district's field trip guidelines should be consistent with California School Board Assn. rules.

Oak Park's current policy has no details concerning supervision.

Officials also sought to reassure parents who complained Oak Park was too lenient when it disciplined the football players.

They said the California attorney general has advised school districts they may not mandate expulsion when a student is caught in possession of alcohol for the first time.

"This is our lawyer giving us advice and telling us what the law says," board member Cindy Vinson said.

Supt. Marilyn Lippiatt said she hoped the board's discussion would appease critics of the disciplinary action and refocus parents on education.

"The meeting gives an opportunity to remind people that these are youngsters who need to learn from their experiences," she said. "It also gives an opportunity to educate the community about what the rules and laws say."

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