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UPDATED: Probe Continues into Drunken Pep Rally

Police: One student found laying outside high school after apparently falling into the street.

Chatham Township Police said Tuesday a juvenile police officer and Chatham High School officials are investigating how several students became intoxicated before a pep rally at the high school Friday night.

Police said one of the allegedly drunken teenagers was found on the ground outside the high school after apparently falling into the street while the pep rally was going on inside the school.

Sgt. Robert Scheetz was working the pep rally when school officials informed him a 16-year-old female student was vomitting in the school office as a result of apparent alcohol consumption at about 8:20 p.m., police said.

According to police, the student told officers she consumed an unknown quantity of vodka prior to the pep rally, which began at 8 p.m.

The Chatham Emergency Squad and an Atlantic Health Care Medic unit was requested and responded to the scene, police said.

At the same time, a 15-year-old female student informed officials she felt sick from alcohol consumption, police said. She said she had consumed beer prior to attending the pep rally and was treated by the members of the Chatham Emergency Squad, police said.

Both students were subsequently transported to Morristown Memorial Hospital for treatment, according to police.

At about 8:50 p.m., police said a school official told Scheetz an allegedly drunk 17-year-old male student was lying on the ground outside the school. Police found him to be highly intoxicated and injured from a fall, police said.

According to police, witnesses said the student fell into the street and was moved to the side of the roadway.

Based on this student's condition, the Chatham Emergency Squad and an Atlantic Health Care Medic unit were requested, police said. Police said the student consumed an unknown quantity of vodka and was transported to Morristown Memorial Hospital for treatment.

Principal Darren Groh said a fourth student was also transported to the hospital for treatment of intoxication due to alcohol consumption.

Groh told the Board of Education Monday the four students were all under 18 and were from different grade levels. He did not comment on their activities outside of academics or whether any were athletes at the school.

The pep rally was intended to promote the fall sports teams, which were ending their second week of games. Groh said at least six staff members were chaperones, along with the two assistant principals, George Alexis and Lori Gironda, and himself. Other staff members who attended to observe event became involved as the evening went on, Groh said.

"It ended up being a chaotic night," Groh said.

While the four students were being treated, Groh said, those students who remained at the pep rally ignored directions from staff and behaved inappropriately. Staff ended the rally at about 8:40 p.m., Groh said, but he does not believe the four intoxicated students caused the issues at the pep rally.

Groh called the disruptions at the pep rally "an isolated incident."

"We've had the pep rally for six or seven years, and I will tell you that Friday night was the first time we've ever had the experience that we had," Groh said.

The Timeline

Groh said the pep rally began at 8 p.m., and several students arrived intoxicated. "By 8:02, [Gironda] and I were called out of the pep rally to deal with a couple of students who were believed to be intoxicated," Groh said.

One senior student who is also an EMT responded as well, Groh said.

After he tried for about 10 to 20 minutes to contact the students' parents, some of whom were not home or could not be reached, Groh said he called 911 to seek medical attention for the students. Groh also rode in the ambulance with one student whose parents could not be contacted.

"By 8:40, we had [students] ready and prepared for transport to the hospital, which was the conclusion of the pep rally. We had not gotten in touch with one of the parents. An aunt or an uncle was going to meet them at the hospital, so I rode in the ambulance with one of the students," Groh said.

Groh arrived back at the high school at approximately 9:30 p.m., he said, when he was briefed on what transpired at the pep rally.

"Our thought at that point really...was to make sure that the kids were OK, that they were safe, and that there was no situation that was going to get worse," Groh said.

He said he contacted the parents of the four teens by phone Friday evening by 11 p.m., and reached out to Interim Superintendent Dennis Fyffe and Assistant Superintendent Michael LaSusa. He followed up with the parents, Fyffe and LaSusa Saturday morning.

Two Separate Incidents

In what Groh described as a separate incident, the remaining students' behavior at the pep rally was "worse than it had been at any previous pep rally, especially the seniors." Groh said students "did not follow the plan of action" for the rally.

Groh was assisting with the treatment of the intoxicated students and was not present for the majority of the rally. From the information he gathered, he said many students, but especially seniors, strayed from their designated areas and disregarded instructions from staff members.

As a result, Groh said future pep rallies, if they occur, will be very different than what they've been in the past. He did not elaborate.

Groh told the school board he did not believe the intoxicated students caused the disturbance to the pep rally.

Disciplinary Measures

Beginning Monday at 6 a.m., Groh said he met with the parents of the four students and administered disciplinary action to the students, according to the school's policy for punishing alcohol consumption on campus.

The following is taken from the Student Handbook, which is available through the Chatham High website or in the gallery to the above right:

If a student is suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or another drug, he/she shall be required to have a drug screening within two hours of the time at which a report is made to administration. Screening may be done by an EMO, an emergency room, or by a private physician but at the specifications required by the Board of Education. The student must also be cleared to return to school by a medical doctor.

Any student determined to have used, possessed or distributed a substance on school grounds or at a school-sponsored event, will be subject to the following disciplinary action:

  • Police notification of use, possession or distribution of a substance
  • Immediate medical examination, which includes screening for alcohol and other drugs
  • Up to a 4 day suspension from school and all school activities
  • Up to a 30-day suspension from extracurricular activities
  • Referral to and evaluation by a licensed alcohol and other drug assessment and treatment facility
  • Minimum of three meetings with the Student Assistance Coordinator.
  • Additional infractions of use, possession or distribution of a substance will result in progressive discipline and consequences as outlined in Board Regulation 5530.
  • Any student referred by a staff member to school administration for suspicion of being under the influence of a substance will be subject to the following procedures:
  • Immediate medical examination, which includes screening for alcohol and other drugs
  • If the result is positive, referral to and evaluation by licensed alcohol and other drug assessment and treatment facility
  • Minimum of three meetings with the Student Assistance Coordinator

Additional referrals will result in additional consequences in accordance with Board Regulation 5530.

During the day Monday, Groh said he held emergency class assemblies to discuss Friday's events. He suspended Open Campus for seniors and spoke with the captains of the sports teams about serving as role models for their peers.

"Just because everybody was not necessarily involved, when you have large numbers that engage in that kind of behavior and conduct, it's difficult to trust that when we do send them out, that they can maintain the integrity of the open campus," Groh said.

Fyffe said he said he has not spoken with any member of the Chatham Borough or Chatham Township police departments as of Monday evening.

"There's nothing...in our policy that would require us to do that," Fyfe said. "We're viewing it as a school matter and not a police matter at this point."

walmarto September 20, 2011 at 08:16 PM
well said Captain, yo# are terly a genetalman and a scHolar
walmarto September 20, 2011 at 08:22 PM
ohai broosie, I fiendzes ur c@mment ve~~reey brainy-like. kep up dar gut vorkmon.
walmarto September 20, 2011 at 08:24 PM
liek u wurnt thurr man da sr.'s was goodly-like and stuffs,
walmarto September 20, 2011 at 08:25 PM
be nice, please. its for the children man for the children
Laura Silvius September 20, 2011 at 08:34 PM
Hi everyone, due to the excessive number of inappropriate comments on this article, we will be shutting down the comments feature at this point. We remind all users to please exercise tolerance and appropriate language when using the Comments or Shout feature on the site. Those comments with profanity or defamatory remarks will be removed, and after several violations the user will be suspended. For the Terms of Use for the site, please see this link: http://chatham.patch.com/terms Sincerely, Laura Silvius

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