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Mound-Westonka hockey parents win an apology for Harlem Shake punishments

By Rochelle Olson, Star Tribune, 02/26/13, 8:45AM CST


Suspensions and fines against students who performed the dance were revoked by Mound Westonka schools chief; official suspended.

The Mound Westonka Schools superintendent apologized Monday night for the suspensions of six varsity hockey players hours before a playoff game, telling a crowd of angry parents that the school activities director had been put on leave pending an investigation of the incident.

The meeting of some 250 people attending the regular board session cheered loudly at the news.

“This is on me,” said Superintendent Kevin Borg. He said he expected to lay out the plan for the investigation on Tuesday.

The parents and students who spoke Monday said they didn’t blame Borg for the suspensions, instead concentrating their fire on the activities director, Dion Koltes. He had handed out the two-day suspensions after the hockey players, joined by two members of the school swim team, performed their version of the “Harlem Shake,” an Internet sensation popular with kids and college sports teams, in the school’s lunchroom on Friday. The students also were issued $75 citations by Minnetrista police for engaging in “a riot-like behavior.”

The hockey players were stripped of the opportunity to play in a sectional quarterfinal Friday night, which the team lost, ending a promising season.

On Monday, parents stepped up to the microphone to complain about a rush to judgment and lack of due process for the students captured in a video taken of the dance performance, which was part of a class project. Students can be seen dancing on tables, but no vandalism was reported. The only damage seemed to be a broken lunch tray.

Many of those who spoke were emotional, including Mike Curti, who appeared on the verge of tears as he spoke of getting a call Friday afternoon from his son, Charlie, one of the suspended players.

“I found him in the school parking lot, kicked out of the building. He couldn’t go back in until I escorted him,” Curti said.

The two walked into the school’s administrative offices where other students waited with their parents. Curti said he kept looking at the clock, hoping the situation could be worked out in time for the game.

We had questions, Curti said, but “we weren’t getting any answers.”

Curti described a scene where parents’ pleas to administrators for mercy and time weren’t heard.

Other parents wanted to know why administrators couldn’t have conducted an investigation first before imposing such harsh penalties.

On Sunday, parents received calls from district officials saying the suspensions had been cut in half, and before Monday’s meeting Borg said the $75 fines would be rescinded and the suspensions reversed.

Parents said they also wanted the incident removed from their children’s records and questioned why they couldn’t see the video at the center of the dispute. The superintendent said it is covered by data privacy laws.

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