A South Jersey Catholic high school has been pushed into the social-media spotlight after allegations that two football players got barely a wrist slap for what some claim amounted to a sexual threat against a female student.
Neither Michael Chambers, president of Paul VI High School in Haddon Township, nor local police would confirm social media assertions that the two players had, over Snapchat, discussed raping a student. In an interview, Chambers confirmed only that the students, both members of the team, were disciplined for violating school policy, specifically the use of “intimidating" language in the exchange on Sept. 26.
Haddon Township police, he said, investigated after the parents of two students — including the student who was the alleged target of the exchange — complained. Police decided not to charge the students, he said.
Police on Monday declined comment. Chambers stood by the school’s response.
» READ MORE: 'No-Gay Thursday:' Horrid abuse alleged at Conestoga
“I feel that we enforced the regulations in the handbook for what was being done, especially when police reported that no charges would be filed and nothing else would be done beyond that,” said Chambers, a 1994 graduate of the school. “The safety and well-being of our students are of primary importance at all times.”
Neither Chambers nor police would disclose the content of the social media exchange or say what discipline the players faced, which means much has been shaped by the Twitter outcry. The players involved have not been identified.
A group of alumni, some who have siblings at the 1,000-student school and who have started a petition for more transparency from the school, allege that the communication between the players amounted to a rape threat.
“Hearing about Paul VI football players planning to rape a freshman student, and Paul VI response was to take away the students phones away for one day … absolutely sickening the lack of leadership and accountably from the administration,” tweeted @xmeganadams.
Katelyn Checetto, another 2017 graduate, wrote: “The 2 young guys each got two 1-hour detentions; they weren’t full detentions because they had football practice that they ‘couldn’t miss.’ My brother literally got more time in detention for jokingly giving his friend the middle finger in class. Let that sink in.”
Chambers disputed Checetto’s assertion that the students left detention early for practice.
Reached by phone, Checetto, 21, of Magnolia, said the school at the very least should have suspended the players. In addition to the detention, she said, the school took their phones away for a day.
“I was like, really? They just really threatened to rape this girl and you’re going to take their phones away?” Checetto said.
Chambers said the phones were taken as part of the investigation.
Checetto said she first learned of the alleged incident from a former classmate’s initial tweet and spoke about it with her brother, who currently attends the school.
Joseph Dructor, 21, of Blackwood, also said the discipline was inadequate. He said he was forced to finish his senior year at home after a student started a rumor that she overheard him tell his girlfriend he was going "to shoot up the school,” which he said was untrue.
“They had no proof, and they kicked me out,” he said.
When he said he intended to complain publicly, the school threatened to withhold his diploma, he said. So he stayed quiet and got his diploma. Now, he said, he wants people to know.
“They had solid evidence of the football players trying to do this, but I got kicked out over a rumor,” he said. “That makes no sense.”
Neither Dructor or Checetto said they had seen the Snapchat messages.
The superintendent of the Diocesan Office of Catholic Schools in Camden, of which Paul VI is a part, has reviewed the school’s handling of the case and “determined that they correctly followed the school’s policy and procedures,” said diocesan spokesperson Michael Walsh.
Chambers said the school is looking into the social media storm around the issue. He questioned why complaints are surfacing now.
The Snapchat exchange occurred on Sept. 26, he said, and the following day the parents of two students became aware of the exchange and contacted police. While he would not provide specifics about the discipline, he referred a reporter to the school handbook to see what punishment would follow for “harassment” and “threat.”
The handbook described the discipline as two full detentions and 15 demerits. Chambers said, however, that the disciplinary action was “ongoing” and “multitiered,” though he declined to say what else was occurring.
“Additionally,” he wrote in an email, “the offending students received anti-intimidation and sexual harassment education.”
All parents involved were informed that disciplinary action would be taken, he said.
Checetto said alumni are concerned about more than just the incident with the football players. She said some teachers flirted with her friends. Other allegations have swirled that the school had failed to respond adequately to misconduct issues.
The alumni-started petition calls on the school administration “to begin a dialogue with alumni surrounding this issue and begin a process of institutional change to end this deeply alarming culture.”
Chambers countered that any allegations that were brought to school authorities were properly handled.
“We would never ignore claims against students or involving our students," Chambers said. “Every claim is investigated, and if it warrants, the authorities are called.”
Chambers declined to say whether the players remain on the team, which has had a winless season so far. Checetto said it’s her understanding that they do, though she did not have their names.