Starpoint ordered to ‘show cause’ on suspension of two wrestlers

Mar. 4—A State Supreme Court Justice has issued an order to show cause, directing the Starpoint Central School District to appear in a Niagara Falls courtroom to explain why it has suspended from classes, two members of the varsity wrestling team at the center of an investigation into “serious allegations of inappropriate conduct” and a criminal probe of possible sexual harassment and sexual abuse.

The order was signed Wednesday by Justice Frank Caruso. The judge also issued an order, believed to be at the request of the school district, to seal all of the filings in the case, including the order to show cause.

Additionally, Caruso granted a request to close his courtroom to the public and the news media, during hearings on a lawsuit filed by one of the suspended wrestlers and the parents of the second student athlete.

That suit seeks to overturn the “emergency removal” of the wrestlers from classes at Starpoint High School. The removal order, issued by Schools Superintendent Sean M. Croft, indicates that the district has “conducted an individualized safety and risk analysis” and that the two suspended students “pose an immediate threat to the physical health and safety of students” at the high school.

The removal order goes on to state that the threat arises from “allegations of sexual harassment.”

The lawsuit was filed with Caruso on Tuesday afternoon. The Gazette was able to obtain and review the filings in the case before all the documents were sealed under Caruso’s order on Wednesday.

Because the order to show cause has been sealed, the Gazette has been unable to determine when the hearing on the wrestler’s lawsuit will be held.

The parents involved in the lawsuit include a member of the Starpoint Central Board of Education, Michelle L. Leuer. She and her husband, James, brought the legal action on behalf of their son, a 17-year-old senior at the high school and member of the wrestling team.

Even though the student who has filed suit against the district is 18, and therefore had to be named as an adult in the litigation, the Gazette has chosen not to identify him.

While not commenting directly on the allegations in the lawsuit, Croft denounced its filing and suggested the claims, counterclaims and other details of the proceedings should not be made public.

“In light of the seriousness of the allegations raised and the privacy of the students involved, the District finds it deplorable that certain individuals have sought to make this into a public spectacle on multiple occasions,” he said. “We again ask that everyone please respect the privacy of all individuals involved with the Varsity Wrestling Team.”

When the school district first announced the cancellation of the wrestling team’s season, on Feb. 8, Croft acknowledged “the involvement of law enforcement” into “serious allegations of inappropriate conduct by one or more members of (the) Varsity Wrestling Team.” The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office then confirmed that its Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) had “an active investigation focusing on the wrestling team.”

On Wednesday, Sheriff Michael Filicetti said the probe could be completed soon.

“The investigation has been moving forward steadily,” the sheriff said. “It is a complicated issue and we will continue to investigate. We hope to have a resolution to the case soon.”

That resolution could come as early as next week, but law enforcement sources said there have been “no arrests or charges at this point” in the investigation.

In their lawsuit, the Leuers and the 18-year-old student contend that the removal from classes was “arbitrary and capricious” and an “abuse of discretion and/or a violation of lawful procedure.”

Attorneys representing them charged in the suit that the district’s removal letters, sent Feb. 7, failed to identify the threat to physical safety or harm the two wrestlers posed to other students. Two days later, on Feb. 9, the district sent letters charging the two wrestlers with sexual harassment, of another member of the wrestling team, under Title IX of federal education and civil rights law.

The lawyers for the Leuers and the 18-year-old contend that the suspended students are accused of sexual harassment in three separate incidents that involve what is known as “dogpiling” or “piling on.” The attorneys describe the activity as “horseplay, a form of roughhousing.”

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