The former Hawthorne School and current home to the Brunswick School Department administrative offices. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

Brunswick School Department is reviewing policies following a reported hazing incident that took place involving high school football players.

The incident that sparked the review occurred during a team retreat at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick on Aug. 16.  Following the school’s investigation, several players were removed from the team, a longtime football coach was fired and the remainder of the 2021 football season was canceled. In October, The Times Record reported that policies related to hazing, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, violence and school safety were considered during the disciplinary process.

A separate police investigation into the matter yielded no criminal charges.

On Wednesday, the school board reviewed procedures outlining the district’s response to allegations against students and staff members. The conversation was wide-ranging, reviewing topics like how to handle allegations of sexual harassment, report concerns about school violence and work alongside police investigations.

Public transparency with school investigations was another topic.

“I think all of us as parents in the school district have had the experience of like knowing that something has happened, and then never hearing anything about it again, and you just sort of have-to-have faith that it was delt with, or that something happened,” said Board Member Sarah Singer. “It kind of becomes this weird black box.”

Brunswick School Department Superintendent Phil Potenziano said the district is working with legal counsel to present hypothetical scenarios to the board to demonstrate what can and can’t be revealed following an incident.

According to Brunswick School Board chairperson Billy Thompson, the administration is beginning to look at how to implement an anonymous reporting tool to allow people to come forward with allegations.

“You can’t act on anonymous information, right, but it’s a way to at least begin to have understanding,” said Thompson. “I think the primary purpose is data gathering, just to have maybe some situational awareness into something we might not have situational awareness into because people don’t feel comfortable for whatever reason talking about it.”

The incident this year is not the only recent example of allegations of bullying, harassment and abuse taking place in the Brunswick schools.

In 2016, the district settled a lawsuit for $125,000 after a former student said school officials did not do enough to prevent bullying he experienced for two years in the junior high school, The Times Record reported.

In 2019, eleven teachers accused an outgoing Brunswick Junior High School principal of harassing and bullying female staff, also saying that the administration swept the complaints under the rug, The Times Record reported. An attorney at the time concluded the evidence did not support a finding of harassment based on the school board’s definition, The Times Record reported.

Last year, The Portland Press Herald reported that a Brunswick High School graduate alleged that a former teacher sexually abused them for more than a year while enrolled in the school. The music teacher, who at the time was employed at Cape Elizabeth schools, resigned after the allegations surfaced.

“We take them seriously,” said Shawn Lambert, Brunswick’s assistant superintendent, in an interview Thursday when asked about the list of allegations. “As far as do I see a system – not necessarily. I think every allegation is different, and every situation is different and unique. I think one of the things Brunswick has done a good job with is systematically addressing those issues when we become aware of them.”

As for policy revision, Lambert said the school is currently looking at the field-trip policy to outline the difference, requirements and guidelines between co-curricular field trips, a school-sponsored extra-curricular trip and student trips that are not associated with the school.

Under Maine Principal Association rules, because the Brunswick football program forfeited the remainder of the 2021 season the team is currently prohibited from participating in the upcoming two seasons.

According to Brunswick High School Athletic Director Aaron Watson, on Dec. 2 a letter was filed to the MPA asking for a reinstatement of the upcoming seasons.

An update regarding the appeal is expected in January.

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