School officials have rescinded suspensions for seven of the 18 John Burroughs High School baseball team members who were punished after an underage drinking incident on a team trip to Arizona.
On April 18, Principal Emilio Urioste suspended the entire varsity baseball team after administrators discovered that an assistant coach provided alcohol to the players.
Head coach J.R. Schwer and three of his assistants were fired when Urioste canceled the remainder of the season.
Eleven of the players remain suspended, but Urioste said that on Monday, after an appeal from a parent, he expunged the suspensions from the records for those who did not participate in the drinking.
“It was my recommendation that those that did not participate in the drinking should have the suspensions rescinded,” he said. “The decision was consistent for those seven students and was not on an individual-case basis.”
But the decision also came after a federal public defender, who said he was working independently on behalf of two of the non-drinking players and their parents, sent a legal demand letter on Friday claiming the punishment violated their 1st Amendment rights.
The attorney, Guy Iversen, said he contacted Urioste and Burbank Unified Supt. Stan Carrizosa last week after hearing about the incident.
“The seven players who did not consume alcohol had an absolute constitutional right under the 1st Amendment Free Speech clause not to be compelled to snitch on their teammates,” Iversen said. “To punish them for refusing to tell on teammates is a clear violation of their constitutional rights.”
Urioste declined to comment on the constitutionality of the suspensions. Carizzosa could not be reached for comment.
Over the weekend, Iversen — who is a Burbank High School graduate and La Cañada Flintridge community baseball coach — said he was authorized by the remaining five families in the group of seven students to negotiate and potentially litigate on their behalf. His services have not been officially retained by the families or through the federal public defender’s office.
“I was absolutely outraged by the actions of the administration,” he said. “This has nothing to do with the actions of the kids.”
Iversen has urged the district to reinstate the remaining 11 players — whom he called “victims of the irresponsible and criminal acts of an assistant coach” — so that they can continue the varsity baseball season.
The Indians (6-8-1, 3-2 in league) were tied for third in the Pacific League before their season was canceled.
“I’m happy for the kids that the suspensions were rescinded,” Schwer said on Thursday. “It was the right thing to do, and I’m sorry the kids had to go through that.”
All the players will be eligible to walk in their graduation ceremony next month per a school policy that prohibits only those who have two or more suspensions on their record, Urioste added.