It might have been sanctioned in the past, and it's an annual rite of passage in Cranston for some, but the recent ski trip to New Hampshire that led to 14 Cranston teenagers being charged with underage drinking — and one for marijuana possession — after they were caught having a party in a motel was independently organized and not sanctioned by the school district, said Ray Votto, chief operating officer of Cranston Schools.
As a result, none of the Cranston West students on the trip who were charged will face disciplinary action because it was not a sanctioned event, Votto said.
"We're not taking action right now because it wasn't a school sponsored action," Votto said. "We're letting it lie with the authorities in New Hampshire."
The trip is an annual rite of passage for many Cranston high schoolers and has been going on for years. And thought it's not school-sanctioned, the trip does seem to be sanctioned by some parents who know there will be drinking, based on comments made on this site, Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet.
There was apparently some confusion about whether the trip was school sanctioned, prompting a message to get sent to West parents in December over the school listserv. The message stated that the trip "has been planned under the guise of being a Cranston West sanctioned function. This is NOT a school sanctioned event and is not being coordinated at all by Cranston High School West."
Police at the scene at the motel in New Hampshire released the 14 teenagers to the custody of David Hodgkinson, a retired former head of the science department at Cranston West and the owner of a Travel Leaders franchise in Cranston.
The trips used to be sanctioned by the schools, which could be one reason why some parents might think they still are, Votto said.
But things changed after 1998, when a complaint was filed with the state Ethics Commission about Hodgkinson's use of school time and resources to organize the annual ski trips in his capacity as a teacher. It alleged that he was profiting from the trips by collecting a commission through a travel business he was affiliated with that planned and conducted the trips.
Four years later, the commission concluded that by raising money for the trips and profiting from them through his travel busines, he was in violation of state ethics rules.
He was fined a total of $4,000. (see attached ruling)
Votto said Hodgkinson retired from the district around 2002 after more than 30 years of employment. And the district has rules about how trips are organized and sanctioned. A school sanctioned event goes before the School Committee for approval.
This trip, "was organized [by students] while in school or had meetings after school, but it's not something they came to the administration of the school district or to ask permission to organize it," Votto said.
If it were a school sanctioned ski trip, the students would certainly be facing punishment for what happened, Votto said.
And many parents say the incident is just a case of teenagers being teenagers.
"They're going to experiment the same way most of their parents did when they were their age," said Cranston Patch user cranstonguy20. "We need to focus on teaching these teens the importance of moderation and good judgement rather than unrealistically expecting that they're never going to drink or smoke weed or anything like that. The more you tell them they can't, the more awesome they're going to feel going against mommy and daddy's orders."
The district does offer programs regarding underage drinking and works with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, especially during prom season, for example, Votto said. There are also assemblies and other events that go on "constantly throughout the year" in regards to underage drinking.
Reader "Family friend" said "It's been a tradition for years to go on this ski trip for years at Cranston West, it's known to go to party than to ski. All you hypocrites need to get off your high horse and stop acting like you've never done anything wrong in your lives. They are high school students it's what they do, that's no excuse but stop acting like its such a surprise. The kids were sitting in a hotel room, not driving anywhere and causing no harm to anyone. People need to Shutup and mind there own business because it has nothing for you to worry about. Not your kid, not your problem."
One student who was on the trip, Amanda Petrocelli, was more concise:
"this was NOT a school trip. it has nothing to do with West. i was on the trip and one of the students listed so i would know. I'm sure all of you adults posting these comments weren't all saints yourselves in high school. were teenagers its going to happen," she said.