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Justice for Civil Liberty Violations of Severna Park Field Hockey

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The Severna Park High School Field Hockey Program in Severna Park, Maryland has a successful 43 year history including 23 state titles. The 2017 team followed in that success, and on Wednesday, November 1st they won the region title and earned a ticket into the state tournament. Following with tradition, the girls had 'mischief night' to celebrate their win. Due to the events of the night, the girls were suspended by the Anne Arundel County School Superintendent George Arlotto one game, forcing the team to withdraw from the state tournament and forfeit their region title. We are arguing that the Severna Park Administration and certain AACPS officials violated Due Process Rights guaranteed under the 14th amendment, The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and Title IX which ensures gender equality, as well as allowed a platform for students to be bullied, cyberbullied, and harassed in their hastiness to remove the team from the tournament. The parents of the children have submitted bullying reports and received letters back from Assistant Superintendent Janine Robinson informing the parents that the they believe the administration followed the "established and proper process". The parents are still fighting for the due process and civil liberties of their children. Today, December 4th, the parents submitted another appeal letter to the Board of Education (BOE) and today, the head coach of the team was fired within hours of the new appeal being submitted. The coach had already been sanctioned for her knowledge of mischief night to a one game suspension like the girls. The the cited reason for firing the head coach (an entire month later) was her knowledge of the events of mischief night. The administration knew about the events as well. 

The "established and proper process" Ms. Robinson believes was followed by the Severna Park Administration is one where the Principal, Mr. Patrick Bathras, and Assistant Principal, Mr. William Smith exhibited biased and bullying behavior toward the children leading to an unsafe educational environment. Biased behavior as defined by MSDE is "bias committed against a person which is motivated by the offender's bias, a negative opinion or attitude towards a group of persons"  " of the primary concerns of the school system is health and safety of all students, The victim of biased behavior often feels insulted, threatened, or violated". Bullying behavior is defined as "intention; intent to harm; intent to cause physical or emotional hurt; it involves a power differential, one person is bigger, older than the other; creates a hostile educational environment; a student does not feel safe". Several parents and students have filed bullying reports against the Severna Park administration, however, Assistant Superintendent Robinson claimed to the parents that no students had submitted them.

On Thursday, November 2nd, the Severna Park administration clearly displays this behavior by manipulating, threatening, insulting, and bullying the girls into writing and signing incident reports during school hours. They told the girls in closed door one on one sessions in their offices (up to two hours in one case) that "if you don't sign the incident reports you are admitting guilt and will forfeit your season", "it will be harder on you if you don't cooperate", and "we are trying to get people from pressing charges". If the administrators did not feel what the girls wrote on the incident report was sufficient enough, the incident report was handed back, telling the girls that "you did not provide enough information" and to keep writing. The parents of the minor students interviewed at school were not notified, before, during, or immediately after the interview process.

The same day, after school hours, Principal Bathras and Assistant Principal Smith drove 15 minutes from Severna Park High School to the girl's practice at Kinder Farm Park, a public venue in which peers and other community members frequent, to force the children they could not get statements from at school to write and sign incident reports there. Still, the parents were not contacted by the administration and the only reason the parents could get to the field was because their children contacted them. Two parents report that Principal Bathras abruptly grabbed their arms to prevent them from trying to approach their daughters when they arrived at the field. 

On Friday, November 3rd, the team's official sanction was levied via an official AACPS Press Release at 2:41 pm, prior to the student athletes and families receiving the SPHS Student Athletes Suspension or Dismissal Procedural Due Process Check List, well after 3:00 p.m on 11/3/17. The principal and assistant principal intentionally avoided parents and and immediately departed the school, giving no chance for the students or families to refute the allegation. Mr. Bathras had 24 hours to respond to parents, yet he failed, denying due process. Despite repeated requests, parents have never been provided with any of the evidence against the girls used in the decision making process. In a letter denying the original appeals, it was indicated that materials reviewed were "documentation provided by Severna Park High School administration". The Suspension Due Process Checklist provides that the parents have the right "to respond to specifics of the allegations", however, they cannot do that if they are never provided the evidence and facts that formed the basis for their suspension. 

Because athletic involvement and the educational process are inseparable, athletic suspensions are bounded by The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as part of the educational process. The Supreme Court Case Goss v. Lopez states "where a person's good name, reputation, honor, or integrity is at stake because of what the government is doing to him", the minimum requirements of The Due Process Clause must be satisfied. The athlete's liberty interests were not protected as direct result of due process procedural fault. 

Biased behavior was displayed by singling out the Field Hockey team for discipline. Members of the high school's football team admitted to participating in mischief night as well, yet they received no disciplinary action. Just a few weeks prior, members of boys soccer team 'hit' several homes with toilet paper, food, and condiments on front yards and cars, yet they received no disciplinary action. Just a few months prior, after winning their second state championship in a row, five members of the boy's varsity lacrosse team illegally trespassed and broke into Kinder Farm Park. They broke into animal enclosures and posted pictures of their 'mischief' on social media (photos have since been removed). Kinder Park planned to press charges, however, the Severna Park Administration negotiated community service for the boys and they were not allowed to attend their end of season banquet. The boys had no lengthy one on one meetings to sign incident reports, there was no press release on the official AACPS website, there were no athletic or academic suspensions, and the boys were not forced to forfeit their state title, as the girls had been forced to forfeit their regional title. Title IX protects female athletes and demands gender equality, which is clearly neglected at Severna Park High School. Additionally, Mr. Bathras has had family members on both the Boy's Lacrosse and Boy's Soccer teams. 

The press release conducted by AACPS Superintendent George Arlotto, Principal of SPHS Bathras, and Chief Communication Officer of AACPS Bob Mosier violated student privacy rights in accordance with FERPA. The press release states that the team “… was withdrawn in the wake of one-game suspensions of all 24 varsity players and all three of the program’s coaches”. By stating “…all 24 varsity players…”, the press release labels every girl on the team as a community vandal, despite police stating that the incident was “…not a criminal matter”. The Washington Post has a publicly available list of the names of all 24 varsity players, including their grade level and in some cases their height. AACPS has allowed for their identities to be easily accessed and revealed in legal directories like the Washington Post and in their peer groups and communities.

This created a snowball effect for local and national news outlets to reference the press release, copying the wording directly, including the statement “all 24 varsity players”. An article by Capital Gazette reporter Bob Hough printed on the front page of the sports section, states their vandalism included “…more than two dozen residences, including vehicles … ‘rolled’ with toilet paper, and doused with ketchup, hot sauce and other substances. The littering included pizza boxes and business signs like those erected in road medians, according to Anne Arundel County Public Schools spokesman Bob Mosier”. This description is different from the one given in the press release by Bob Mosier further discussing details of the alleged incident and spinning the story by giving different information from the press release. Hough references the press release several times throughout his article. CBS Baltimore, The Washington Post, and USA Today included the same identifying wording from the press release, “…all 24 members…”. The title of the CBS Baltimore article is “Field Hockey Team Bumped From State Tourney, All Players Suspended After Community Vandalism”. This title directly states all players are community vandals given information from the press release and implies criminality and school suspension.

The press release posted on Facebook and Twitter and the other news articles posted on Facebook and Twitter allowed a way for members of the Severna Park community, including Severna Park High School teachers, and people outside the community to judge and post ruinous and derogatory comments about the players, coaches, and player’s parents. These comments spread rumors, attack the character of the players, their coaches, their parents, and called them names: cyberbullying, harassing, and demeaning them. The viral nature of social media perpetuates their continual suffering. These comments are all easily accessed by locating the articles on Facebook and Twitter. Social media has allowed for the press release and news articles based on the press release labeling them as community vandals to be shared, retweeted, and seen by the field hockey team’s peers, mentors, family, and millions at the national level. A member of the Maryland Board of Education, Stacy Korbelak, tweeted the press release in all caps on her twitter account. She did not retweet it, instead went through the trouble of writing a new tweet herself.

AACPS is maintaining an outlet for easily identifiable students to be cyberbullied. A parent asked for the press released to be removed from the AACPS official Facebook page, however, it is still up.They did not acquire written consent from the parents of minor student athletes, or from the student athletes themselves. Superintendent Arlotto, Principal Bathras, Chief Communication Officer Mosier, Assistant Principal Smith, and Athletic Director of Severna Park High School Dave Lanham and the websites maintaining the press release directly facilitated local and national cyberbullying, slander, and harassment of all 24 members of the field hockey team. No social workers were asked to meet with the girls following the negative publicity of the social media comments by student peers, community members, and teachers. One member of the team has since left the school and transferred to a different public school because of the hostile  environment perpetuated by AACPS. 

We are petitioning for the removal of the entire Severna Park High School administration, including Principal Patrick Bathras, Assistant Principal William Smith, and Athletic Director Dave Lanham as well as AACPS Superintendent George Arlotto and AACPS Communications Officer Bob Mosier who allowed for a press release with personally identifiable information to be shared on social media and continue to allow cyberbullying to occur. They clearly displayed biased and bullying behaviors against the team by violating The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, FERPA, and Title IX.  The children were denied basic civil liberties. By firing the head coach, the administration proves they cannot change. Removal from an educational environment is the only way to make sure that the administrators cannot display the same bullying or biased behavior to any of the members of the 2017 field hockey team, future members of the field hockey team, or future students at Severna Park High School. 

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