NEWBURYPORT — Four Newburyport High School students who took a school-sponsored trip to Germany in June and admitted drinking beer at a World Cup viewing party with their host families, but without their chaperones, were punished and sent home early.
Some parents are now seeking answers from the district regarding chaperone accountability and if the students' punishment was appropriate.
On June 28, Steven Picciano and Jennifer Frizzell awoke to emails from their son, Jared Picciano, 17, informing them that he and three other students admitted to drinking beer in Germany. The trip was attended by 19 students and chaperoned by Spencer Wolf, a German teacher at the school, and Christine Fitzgerald, a guidance counselor.
Steven Picciano said he learned that students were attending a watch party for Germany's World Cup soccer team on the afternoon of June 27 at a public location in Waldkirch, where beer was being served. At this event, he said 17 students were drinking beer "as encouraged by the host families," noting the drinking age in Germany is 16. Two students did not attend the party, he said.
As far as he knew, Picciano said both chaperones were not present at the viewing party. In his statement to lawyers, his son Jared said his host family bought him a beer, encouraging him to drink it. There were several exchange parents and adults present, he added. Steven Picciano and other parents are questioning why the chaperones did not attend the viewing party.
"This was a difficult position to be in as I didn't want to offend others and their culture by not accepting and then just thought it was okay, especially since some of the host parents were there as well," Jared Picciano said in a statement to his lawyer. "I do not drink in the U.S. so this is new to me."
According to a letter from Caitlin Leach Mulrooney, a lawyer representing the Newburyport School District, students and parents participating in the program were required to sign an acceptance of the substance policy, which states there is zero tolerance of alcohol, despite the drinking age in Germany.
In addition, students who drank any alcohol would be sent home immediately at their parents' expense.
This policy was signed by Jared Picciano and his mother May 22 and May 21, according to Mulrooney, noting that by having a beer at the viewing party, Jared and three other students who admitted to drinking violated the substance policy.
The next day, the chaperones asked the students if they were drinking beer, Steven Picciano said. Following this one-on-one questioning, which Picciano's lawyer, Lance Lane, claimed to be a "barbaric coercive interrogation and intimidation," students were taken to an internet cafe and told by chaperones to send emails home to their parents, explaining the students violated the zero-tolerance policy.
"We were told to put our phone away and that we could not make any phone calls," Jared Picciano said in his statement. "We all did what they were instructed to do though we were begging to call our parents."
The district's attorney denied Lane's "colorful mischaracterization of the investigation," noted students are routinely separated during interviews, and said students were interviewed by school staff with whom they were "comfortable and familiar." Mulrooney said there was no coercion or intimidation used by the chaperones.
Steven Picciano said he received the email from Jared about 6 a.m. But when some parents received no word from the school by 9 a.m., they drove to the high school to learn from school leaders what was going on with their children.
About noon, Steven Picciano said he received an email from retired Newburyport High Principal Michael Parent and Associate Principal Michael Testa informing parents of an incident involving students who drank alcohol and that chaperones were gathering facts and planning the next steps.
The emails from the students the previous day were sent to the principal, superintendent, parents and both chaperones, as well as coaches and club teachers, Jared Picciano said. School administrators eventually met with parents to let them know when their children would fly home, Steven Picciano said.
"I felt so terrible when writing this letter ... most of us were crying," Jared Picciano said in his statement.
He said the chaperones did not tell the students if any further disciplinary action would be taken. Picciano said he was able to call his parents once he returned to his host family.
Because of the concerns raised by parents, Picciano and his parents were offered the opportunity to meet with Principal Andrew Wulf and the chaperones in mid-August.
Steven Picciano did not attend, claiming the goal of the meeting was to convey no further punishment aside from his son's one-game football team suspension. The father noted that he was aware of this information from a previous phone conversation with Wulf, who he said was not open to an appeal of the sports suspension.
In addition, parents drafted a letter to high school leaders asking for accountability for the chaperones during the watch party and the school administrators' actions in the handling of the situation, said Steven Picciano, who noted he discussed gross negligence and willful misconduct on the part of the chaperones and school system with his lawyer. He is also claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress based on the "extreme and outrageous conduct" by the chaperones.
"The district determined that the chaperones at all times acted appropriately and in accordance with district policy and the substance policy signed by the students and families," Mulrooney said. "The district did, however, acknowledge parent concerns with regard to how the incident was communicated to them. Should similar circumstances arise in the future, the district will use best efforts to notify the parents in person as opposed to via email from chaperones or students."
Superintendent Sean Gallagher said that under district policy, administrators and school staff can't comment on civil cases involving individual students, although no lawsuit has been filed.
Staff writer Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.
By: Mass. Lawyers Weekly Staff November 9, 2009
An amazing 15 minutes
As a lawyer who built a solo practice directly out of law school, Lance I. Layne says he's always been an "aggressive type of guy." As a contestant on the CBS reality show "The Amazing Race," Layne's aggression may have been his biggest asset and his sharpest shortcoming.
"I've had my own practice for 12 years, and it takes a lot of time and hard work to build up your practice," Layne, of Salem, says. "Being on a reality show was another challenge that I put on my plate."
Layne and his then-girlfriend, now-wife, Kerri Morrione, were the fifth couple knocked from the reality show in which teams of two compete in a worldwide race composed of several legs that take them to destinations like Tokyo, Vietnam, Cambodia and Dubai.
Layne earned a reputation as an aggressive, even pushy contestant who was not a fan favorite. Part of that, he says, is the consequence of being a lawyer.
"Some people out there just don't like lawyers, but I wasn't going to hide it. I'm proud of what I do," he says. While he didn't detect any animosity from other teams, he did see it in fan feedback.
"I definitely put myself out there as an aggressive individual. Everyone thinks lawyers are rich and [that] they are too smart for everybody. That's what the general public perceives. I knew I wouldn't be the hero, and I wound up being more like the villain," he says.
Lane graduated from Boston University in 1990 and earned his law degree in 1997 from the Massachusetts School of Law.
"I went up the hard road, worked and went to school at night. Coming out of that school, there weren't a lot of people banging down your door from the big firms, so I had to go out on my own," he says. "I've been doing this for 12 years. I'd say the first half, I didn't make any money; the second half, things clicked. You get a reputation for doing certain things well, and that reputation is not something you can market – you just have to earn it."
Getting a spot on "The Amazing Race" was the same kind of road, he says, competing against 12,000 to 15,000 other potential contestants. Being a lawyer helped, he adds, allowing him to relax during the stressful interview process. "It's no different than being in front of jury," he says.
"Just getting on the show was the high point," Layne says. "Running up to the [finish line] the first time, and seeing [show host] Phil Keoghan there, that was a big thrill, knowing that this was your time and you had an opportunity to win a million dollars and it was in your hands. I loved that pressure and the stress. It's the same type of pressure and stress in legal work."
Now back in practice in Salem, Layne says he hears comments about his appearance on the show from people in the courthouse and on the street. His dollop of fame has given him a taste for more: He and his wife are contemplating "other projects" for TV, he says.
Would he appear on "The Amazing Race" all over again?
"One hundred percent," he says. "It was the most unique experience I have had in my life up to this point. I would do things differently strategy-wise if I did, but it was just an awesome show, and I got to go to unbelievable places that I never would have visited, plus I got to compete."
MIDDLETON — A Middleton couple has been found not guilty of child endangerment charges that were filed after a 14-year-old girl attending a New Year’s Eve party in their home was hospitalized for acute intoxication.
Salem District Court Judge Emily Karstetter found on Thursday that the couple, Mark Clifford and Paula Rogers, had been negligent but not reckless during the Dec. 31, 2011, party. Her verdict came following a four-hour trial.
Clifford, 56, and Rogers, 42, of 176 Lake St., were upstairs with their younger children while their teenage daughter hosted a party downstairs for a group of her friends, ranging in age from 14 to 17.
Shortly before 11 p.m., a then-14-year-old Saugus girl at the party began vomiting and then became unconscious. She was later taken to Children’s Hospital in Boston.
Several other girls at the party also tested positive for alcohol.
But Clifford and Rogers, who took the stand in their own defense, insisted that Rogers had checked on the teens every 15 minutes and had no idea they were drinking.
“They were watching their kids as best they could,” said Lance Layne, who represented Clifford.
The teens, several of whom were charged with being minors in possession of alcohol, told police they had sneaked in vodka in a water bottle and then spiked the punch bowl.
Police, in their report, noted that officers found a vodka bottle, along with a 32-ounce beer bottle. The bottles were never collected as evidence, however, and were not introduced during the trial.
Police also learned from interviews with the teens that the girl had been sick, vomiting in a bathroom, for about 15 minutes before passing out. The teens told police they were afraid to call for help because they didn’t want to get in trouble, but eventually did so after the girl lost consciousness.
Police had initially charged the parents with furnishing the alcohol, but a previous judge dismissed the charge after being told that the girls admitted one of them brought the vodka.
On Thursday, Clifford and Rogers opted for a bench trial, which is a trial before a judge, instead of a jury. Layne said the decision to waive a jury was based on the concern that jurors would be unable to focus on the legal definition of wanton and reckless conduct.
During the trial, prosecutor Heidi Sylvanowicz called eight witnesses, including the girl who was hospitalized and her mother, some of the other party guests, and two police officers.
The couple, while cleared of criminal charges, could still be subject to a civil lawsuit from the family of the girl who was hospitalized.
On the night of the incident, the mother of that girl sent a text message and photo of her daughter, in a hospital bed with a tube inserted into her throat, that read, “Thank you for almost killing my daughter. Tell your parents I will see them in court.”
The case bears some similarities to that of a Beverly woman, Tiffany Clark, who was sentenced to serve six months in jail last year after she was found guilty of furnishing alcohol to minors during a Halloween party in 2010. A girl at that party also ended up in the hospital after consuming “Jell-O shots” made with vodka.
Prosecutors had alleged that Clark purchased the vodka and helped her daughter make the shots the night before the party; Clark and her daughter denied buying alcohol, and Clark testified that she had no idea that her daughter was putting alcohol in the Jell-O cups.
But photos from the party showed Clark smoking and texting as teens continued to drink, and she admitted that she, too, started drinking during the party.
By Christopher Rocchio, 10/19/2009
Lance Layne and Keri Morrione knew their The Amazing Race journey was over when they arrived at the Race leg's indoor ski facility task and saw a bunch of half-melted snowmen.
Lance, a 41-year-old lawyer from Salem, MA, and his wife Keri, a 33-year-old finance manager from Peabody, MA, became the fifth team eliminated from The Amazing Race's fifteenth season during Sunday night's broadcast of the CBS reality series.
On Monday, Lance and Keri talked to Reality TV World about how a few missteps in the Race's Dubai leg led to their ouster; why Lance claims his personality portrayal was half editing and half real; why they were stressed both before and after their The Amazing Race experience; and how they were there to win at all costs.
Reality TV World: It seemed like your biggest problem during last night's leg -- and also during previous legs of the race -- was a difficulty with directions. Why do you think you guys had such a hard time getting around?
Lance: Before last night, you're taking cabs -- a lot of that is hopefully you get lucky enough to get a cab driver that knows where they need to go. This was the first leg obviously that we had to drive. The highways just were very difficult to understand down there.
ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads The biggest problem I think we had was were in that second group of people. Because you're in that second group, I think you have more of a sense of urgency -- at least I felt we did. We made the mistake of trying to get the car first, ran into the wrong garage...
Keri: We should have gotten directions first. Having the directions first would have helped...
Lance: And everyone just sort of caravanned together. Once everyone had left and we were on our own... To be honest if any of the teams were left on their own, I think most of them would have gotten lost. But they mostly stuck together and it was obviously the smart. We just were getting tired of running with the pack.
Reality TV World: Did you think coming into the race that something like directions would hurt you so much?
Lance: Honestly, I was hoping it would have been a standard [transmission] vehicle because I think that would have thrown some people off. But yeah, we didn't expect to lose. We expected to win the race. That was something that was not anticipated because I'm actually not as bad with directions as it turned out to be.
But the thing is, when you're in a different country and people are giving you directions, you can't even get a landmark you're even close to familiar with. Whereas if you're driving around and you're lost in the United States, at least you can get a clue of where you are.
Reality TV World: Lance, you didn't come across very well on the show...
Lance: Oh boy...
Reality TV World: Has watching the show been a bit of an eye-opener about some of your behavior or do you think the editing didn't present an accurate edit of you?
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Lance: You know what? Anyone that goes on one of these shows and complains about the editing should not be on a reality show. Anyone that understands these shows knows that things are edited a certain way -- the way they want to tell the story. And certainly, I gave them what they could use and they used the pieces they wanted to use and they didn't use other pieces.
I didn't come on this show to be the hero or the villain. I don't think we came on this show with a great, touching story -- I mean we weren't the father and son, we weren't the gay brothers, we weren't the interracial couple, we weren't the [all] girl team. For me to go out there and say I want to win the race, I think it upset a lot of people. But I'm competitive, and that was the way we came in.
Keri: I don't think anyone goes on the race to say "we don't want to win". And they can't obviously show every clip because you've got to remember those crews are with us 24 hours a day. You couldn't get every minute of every piece in.
Lance: I'm not like that 24/7. But you know what? I don't think the show did me a disservice in any way. I enjoyed watching me.
Reality TV World: Your problems with directions also seemed to be part of a larger problem where you two seemed very frantic almost every time we saw you on camera. Would you agree with that?
Keri: I would say more of the panic came from -- the urgency -- came from our different styles. It felt, to me any ways, stressful because we hit it from two different perspectives. When I get stressed I get very, very calm and Lance gets high strung. We were creating our own stress because we weren't functioning as a team at that point, just because we hadn't done it before and we haven't been competitive together.
Lance: By the time we hit Cambodia, we actually started working good as a team. We were actually working good as a team in Dubai, but we screwed up the directions so there wasn't much we could do then.
Keri: We created some of it on our own with our styles, but we grew a lot from it.
Lance: I mean I've never had a female teammate before. So that was different for me.
Keri: If you've had a teammate before... (Lance and Keri laugh)
Reality TV World: Just to follow up on that, you guys seem aware of your contradictory styles. Was that something you thought you needed to keep an eye on going into the race?
Keri: I don't think we knew the extent, because we've only had maybe a couple of arguments before this. It's definitely a different situation to function in -- in a competitive arena versus everyday life. We knew we approached things differently, but I don't think we knew to the extent of how we think through in our process.
Reality TV World: Do you think that added level of stress -- which led to bickering -- hurt you during the race?
Lance: Is that a trick question?
Keri: (laughs) It did a little bit.
Lance: One of the aspects of winning the race is to work as a team. If you don't work as a team or you don't find some common bonds with each other in doing certain things, you're going to eventually lose.
Keri: It will be interesting to see this two years from now when we're settled in our relationship.
Lance: But from the competitive side of things, I don't think that was really going to change. We came on to win and that was really essentially our message. It may not have went over all that well.
Lance: I saw some melting snowmen.
Reality TV World: Based on that, do you know how long after Mika and Canaan you guys reached the Pit Stop? Was it close?
Lance: It's hard to say...
Keri: The snowmen weren't completely melted and it was 130 [degrees]. We figured maybe they had left a little bit before we got there.
Lance: We knew we missed them by a little bit, but thing was the Pit Stop was very close to Ski Dubai. Of course we didn't know that at the time. But getting there and not seeing anyone there -- or not any sign of anyone there -- was pretty much... We knew we were kind of screwed because we actually got lost getting back to that spot. We kind of knew we were in trouble.
Reality TV World: You already touched on this a little bit, but what type of impact do you think participating in the race had on your relationship?
Lance: I definitely have to work better as a team with Keri. Going forward, it exposed a lot of personality traits that you wouldn't see in normal life other than going through life for quite some time. But very few people are put in these real stressful situations that the race does offer, so I look at it and I see some of the things.
The funny thing was we were making big improvements on them. We got back, I was more stressed about the two weeks leading up to our wedding after we got back. That was more stressful than the race itself.
Reality TV World: Okay, so your wedding was this summer?
Lance: Yeah, two weeks after the race.
Reality TV World: Congratulations. How did it go?
Lance: I yelled a lot...
Lance: No, I didn't yell. (laughing)
Keri: I can't even tell you how amazing -- I don't know how it is for other people when they get married -- but how amazing it was because we had so much stress and pressure on our shoulders trying to plan the wedding and being away. When the day came, it was just incredible. We were so happy and euphoric, we partied so much.
Lance: We weren't even relaxed coming on the race because Keri had A LOT of planning to do. I was doing some things...
Keri: His tux wasn't in...
Lance: We came in stressed. So we were high strung to begin with.
Reality TV World: That leads well into my next question. What was your reaction when host Phil Keoghan revealed that somebody would be eliminated at the Race's starting line?
Lance: Loving it...
Keri: My gosh, my heart was pounding. We could not have come all this way and get eliminated and then not have the time to put... At least I'd want to be planning my wedding.
Lance: It would have been unbelievably embarrassing beyond comprehension. (laughing) But it never dawned on me that there was any chance of us being that team.
Reality TV World: Just to follow up on that, you were one of the last two teams trying to complete the task. When we spoke with Eric and Lisa Paskel, they said they were the ones who figured out the symbol at the top of the clue was a hint as to what license plate to look for and they just chose to look for it in the wrong direction on the wall. Would you agree with that? Was it basically luck that kept you in the game at that point?
Keri: No, you know what happened was all the other teams got lucky except for ["Friends" Zev Glassenberg and Justin Kanew]. But I had seen it, and I even said to Lance, "Oh my god, we have to look for this!" We started at one end because we saw [Eric and Lisa] at the other end and we didn't want to pass them, so we were looking really meticulously.
The funny thing is me and Lisa were just ready to cross paths and she had missed it. I crossed her path -- and I'm looking, looking -- and I pulled it off. She had literally walked by it half-a-second before.
Reality TV World: That's close...
Keri: It was really, really stressful.
Lance: I had read somewhere that they said that Keri had seen Eric looking at the plate, but she totally got it on her own.
Keri: I'm not really sure if they knew what they were looking for.
Lance: What they didn't show was that this went on for 10 minutes -- us going back and forth. They probably made like three passes on that thing and we made three passes. Every time they went up there my heart dropped because there was a realization -- every time they got up there -- that [Phil] was going to say, "That's it!"
We were in a panic mode and it was chaos because money was all over the place, people were dropping money, dropping clues, people were panicking. You didn't realize until towards the end that it was dwindling down like it was.
Reality TV World: When we talked to Eric and Lisa they also thought it was an unfair twist. Do you agree or do you think they were just bitter since they were the ones who were eliminated?
Lance: It's good TV. It's not fun to be on the losing end of it, but we all... Listen, Eric and Lisa, they fought hard to get on this show. We all beat out thousands of people to get on this show. We all made arrangements to give up a good portion of our summer to be on the show.
To go out like they went out is awful. Awful. But when I saw 12 teams there I was a little irritated because I thought it was a one-in-11 shot at $1 million and now it's a one-in-12 shot a $1 million? That kind of sucks.
Reality TV World: After you were eliminated, was there anybody you really began rooting to win the $1 million? Was there anybody you didn't want to see win?
Lance: I mean we obviously know who won. But as far as rooting for people, on the show I was real close with Canaan and Mika -- I always root for them regardless of what they do in life. I think anyone is deserving of winning only because everyone was selected from thousands of people. We're all special people. Any team to me could win the race.
If the race ran again, [Garrett Paul and Jessica Stout, the second eliminated team] would probably win the race. There's a lot of luck that's involved in the race, but there's also... You have to have a certain degree of mental toughness and every team had it.
Reality TV World: Was there anybody you really didn't get along with while you were out there?
Keri: There really wasn't a lot of time -- other than if you were waiting in an airport -- to really not like somebody. And you had to respect everybody for having their own strategy. My human nature is to just like everybody, Lance may have had a different perspective... (laughs)
Lance: Well, here's the thing. I did like everyone outside the race. It was like this love fest that was going on during the race between the teams. They had put us in situations where we were all kind of locked together and we had to get along or kill each other.
The difference with me was -- and I don't think other people necessarily felt this way -- is that when we were in the heat of battle, the heat of the race, I hated my competitors for the most part. I wanted to beat them. There were other teams like you saw last night, I mean they still kind of kept that love relationship... I never wanted to play that way. When we were doing it, I wanted to win.
I give ["Professional Poker Players" Maria Ho and Tiffany Michelle] credit. They got ["Brothers" Daniel and Samuel McMillen] waiting around for them with a broken car. Certainly we wouldn't have done that. Last night, [ "Dating Couple" Meghan Rickey and Cheyne Whitney] got a Fast Forward and no one challenged them on it. If we had a shot at that Fast Forward -- which we didn't because of our grouping -- we would have went for it and challenged anybody on it.
Reality TV World: What was your favorite overall experience on the show?
Lance: To me, being a big reality TV fan, it was just surreal. Hitting the mat for the first time and seeing Phil there, that was just so awesome.
Keri: Even though you don't have a lot of downtime in these places, you see their societies and how people live. You gain a lot of respect just running through different areas in different countries, just how hard-working people are. We feel fortunate being able to see all that. It was an amazing experience.
Lance: Oh yeah. It was definitely our 15 minutes of fame.
Keri: All the local people we met just trying to get directions, you see these are really good, hard-working people.
Reality TV World: What aspect of The Amazing Race surprised you the most?
Keri: You mean other than the first elimination? (laughs)
Reality TV World: Yeah...
Lance: Going on a reality TV show -- even being a huge fan of reality TV -- I almost thought they're going to get us up in the morning, they're going to give us a big breakfast, they're going to put a little makeup on us, tell us what to wear. But the race is very real. It's definitely a TV show, it's not like an NFL game -- that extent of real. But it's definitely real real and you're definitely worn down.
The public really doesn't see how worn down we are. All they say is the nice line on the map and the teams are going here and the teams are going there. They don't see the 10 hour travel time. They don't see the night down time. They don't see us sleeping on the dock other than for two minutes. You really don't see how they go out of their way to mentally try to break you down.
Reality TV World: How were you cast for The Amazing Race? Was it your first time applying for the show?
Lance: We're not -- what's the word -- "mactors," model/actors. We're not that. I actually was a huge reality TV fan, Keri's a big reality TV fan. I had applied for years to Survivor. Just like other people who try, you send in your application, you never get called.
I started getting calls for Survivor through the last few years, and started having talks about this latest edition. They had seen some pictures of Keri, and they loved them. This was the first time I had a partner who I even could consider doing the race with because The Amazing Race was always my other favorite show.
They loved Keri and the timing was right. You get a little bit of luck. They sent me down to casting in front of the big wigs and the competition started then.
Keri: It was my first time ever applying.
Lance: She's one-for-one in her reality endeavors. I'm like one-for-100. I think the bottom line is we're real, normal people. No one put us on the show. No one pulled us out of a bar. We fought hard to get on it.
It's just as possible for regular people -- people might think I'm a little irregular -- but I'm regular in the sense that we fought hard to get on the show and just to get on the show, that was awesome.