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DCFS refers Maine West hazing claims to prosecutors

Maine Township High School District 207 President Sean Sullivan reads statement board meeting Monday night about recent hazing incidents. No

Maine Township High School District 207 President Sean Sullivan reads a statement at a board meeting Monday night about the recent hazing incidents. No parents came to speak out about the matter. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 5, 2013 6:16AM

Leaders at the Maine Township schools reaffirmed their commitment to ending hazing customs at the district Monday as the state’s child-welfare agency said it had referred to Cook County prosecutors allegations that employees there knew of abuse going back to 2007 but didn’t report it.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services didn’t give specifics in a statement released Monday, but it described the allegations as having been “reported in numerous media outlets.”

Two soccer coaches there, Michael Divincenzo and Emilio Rodriguez, have come under fire after they were targeted in a lawsuit claiming that they sanctioned the alleged sexual assault of at least three soccer players and one freshman baseball player in hazing rituals at northwest suburban Maine West High School.

Maine Teachers Association President Mike Poehler said in a statement released Monday night that it would be inappropriate to comment on the investigation or allegations against employees. But he said the entire matter has been “devastating” to the community.

“It is our hope that it is investigated thoroughly and fairly, and that the eventual outcomes will support an even more secure and safe environment for students and everyone else in the school community,” Poehler said.

Sean Sullivan, president of the Maine Township High School District 207 Board of Education, also read a statement Monday at its board meeting. The statement said the district takes the allegations “very seriously” and is taking steps to eliminate hazing traditions, including the hiring of an independent investigator.

“We are all very saddened by these allegations,” Sullivan said.

No parents spoke about the hazing allegations at the meeting.

Divincenzo also has been accused of witnessing the assault of some younger players as a kind of initiation into the soccer team, and Des Plaines Police were told that he even congratulated a victim, welcomed him to the team and asked “if it was all good” after an alleged assault in July.

He and Rodriguez have been relieved of their duties and are not allowed on school grounds. Divincenzo has ignored several calls from the Chicago Sun-Times seeking comment. Former students have formed a Facebook group to support him and Rodriguez and insist the coaches didn’t know about the abuse.

DCFS spokesman Jimmie Whitelow said the agency generally refers allegations to the local state’s attorney when it thinks someone had a responsibility to report alleged abuse and did not.

But in its statement, DCFS said it would leave it to the Cook County state’s attorney to decide whether Illinois’ Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act was violated at Maine Township and whether action was warranted. Charges could range from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Tony Romanucci, the Chicago lawyer who filed the lawsuit against the district and the coaches, said DCFS’ statement outlines what should have been done after officials learned about the alleged hazing at Maine West.

The allegations against the coaches reach back to at least 2007. A plaintiff in the lawsuit against them told the Sun-Times last week that older players tackled him that year, pulled his pants down, shredded his underwear and sodomized him with their fingers.

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