What Happens in Punta Cana May Not Stay There

Hartland superintendent receives phone call expressing distaste for Hartland students' spring break behavior in Dominican Republic.

Spring break 2011 came to an end Monday morning as many students and their parents returned to school and work. But a group of students, who vacationed at the Ocean Blue & Sand Resort in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, have had accusations of bad behavior follow them home.

"I really hate to do this because I think we've had some really good reports tonight about things that are going on in Hartland Schools," Superintendent Janet Sifferman said at Monday's school board meeting. "But I am very distressed about a phone call that we received this afternoon."

A Grand Rapids resident who also stayed at the Ocean Blue & Sand last week with his family called the administrative office Monday afternoon with tales that Sifferman said left her feeling embarrassed and upset as superintendent, and as a parent.

The man, who had no previous knowledge of the Hartland School District, ran into a group of students at the resort who made it very clear they were from Hartland schools, according to Sifferman.

She said the caller reported that the students "were apparently unsupervised, or poorly supervised. They took over the pool and beach areas. They were drunk. They were obnoxious and rude. They threw up everywhere, including in the pool and in the hallways. And they threw trash off of the balconies."

She said the caller directed her to the website Trip Advisor, which features travel reviews. She said upon looking she noticed that the reviews of Ocean Blue & Sand were peppered with talk of ill-behaved teenagers in almost every post.

"Some of the things that are in this (website) I won't even read in a public meeting. That's how bad it is. But I think it brings undue notoriety to our district.  We strive from K through 12 to teach reason, respect, and responsibility and these young people did not exhibit that one bit," Sifferman said.

She added that she thought "long and hard" about discussing the call but felt it was important enough too be mentioned at a public meeting so that it could become a matter of public record.

"I'm here to say that if parents decide that's how they want to behave and that's how their children want to behave we can't control that.  However, if there are parents out there that are sitting on the fence and wondering if they should allow their children to be a part of this I hope by me speaking publicly that it will reinforce their good judgement."

Sifferman said the man told her he reported encounters with students from three other districts in Michigan and had called those superintendents as well.  "He ended the call by saying he was embarrassed about being from Michigan after seeing the behavior of these students," she said.

"We are very, very lucky, by what I have read and what I was told that we didn't have a tragic incident that we are mourning our first day back from spring break," Sifferman said.

She also noted that discussion on this topic will be communicated in the high schools welcome packets urging parents to not let this happen again.

Editor's note: This story was updated Tuesday evening to clarify in the opening paragraph that accusations of bad behavior were made against students from the Hartland School District.

Denny Hughes April 13, 2011 at 07:18 PM
I'll tell you what's disgusting. Our school adminstrators knee jerk reaction and public humiliation of our own students by a total stranger making some very bold accusations. If our school adminstrators would react the same way to facts (not allecgations) presented to them from parents from our own district about inappropriate behavior and actions at the High School , our kids and the community would be better served. Instead, we keep that stuff very quiet. React to the FACTS, after a thorough investigation before making such inappropriate public comments.
david April 13, 2011 at 07:38 PM
Fact: there were 32 students at Ocean Blue, there were 31 parents. The resort holds over 1500 guests. Hartland students were a small handfull of the 1500 guests! Ocean Blue has over 10 bars at the resort two huge pools, wading pool and large hot tub. Fact- several students went on day long excursions each on different days- away from the resort. Interesting that Sifferman had "no comment" to the story on expulsion issues delt with at the same meeting. Stabbing and bomb threats? " No Comment" ? That expulsion hearing was based on facts. Legal actions are pending with those students. Yet, she is able to speak out at length aganist spring break students with no facts, no proof and no documentation! She needs to worry more about what is going on in and with her students while at school and not what she "hears" goes on in a different country and not a school related activity.
Robert April 13, 2011 at 08:05 PM
I am reading this article and comments by students and parents and just laugh at what did you expect when you go to Mexico for spring break, the history of underage drinking and drug use is well documented. On the one hand if you followed the rules and acted properly you are grouped into the "gang of folks that went to Mexico for spring break" and everything bad that is documented and happens during this type of break location. On the other hand if you drink when your under 21 and have no experience or supervision you are going to puke, urinate, break and do stupid things and you will be grouped with that "gang of folks that went to Mexico for spring break". Shame on those parents that were buying for $150-$300 wrist bands for their under 18 kids to drink for the week. Let's be real, there were students from all the Livingston County Area High Schools Mexico. Some doing the right things and alot of them partying and doing bad things. Why do you think they want to go to Mexico where the drinking age is 18. No parents, teachers and little supervision. So Hartland you are not alone based on the stories I have heard, both good and bad but it's time to be accountable as parents for our kids. If you don't want the Mexico experience then don't let your kids go, if you let them go then you are at risk that something you don't like might be reported. Tough article and more to the story but if you are honest you have to know alot of it is true, just a different senior year.
Greg Jacobs April 13, 2011 at 09:23 PM
wish Mrs. Sifferman would be more concerned with the low morale of her underappreciated staff and the joke of a principal the hs has than the rambling of one random man who had a bad vacation. No checking of facts, no thought given to the other side of the story -- just jump right to conclusions and cause drama -- very disappointing there was even a mention of it at all. Control what you can control -- YOUR district, YOUR community - not an ignorant Mexican vacation choice made by enabling parents OUTSIDE the school boundaries. No matter what the kids and parents did or didn't do, it's none of your or our business!
Amie April 13, 2011 at 09:34 PM
I don't agree that Mrs. Sifferman made this a topic at a public meeting. But come on, you have to admit that there was some bad behavior going on (and not just from Hartland or Michigan students). No, not all of the kids participate in it and probably the majority were respectful. You don't have to actually see a picture of a kid throwing up to know it happened. There is a reason that the kids want to travel outside of the US, it is so they can drink legally. There is a reason that an all-inclusive is picked, so they can legally drink a lot. Bottom line is that these kids were not on a school sponsored trip therefore the school district doesn't have much say. But to try and make it sound like all of the students were perfect angels down there is a bit far fetched.
Paddle the Mitten & SUP MI April 13, 2011 at 11:35 PM
It seems to me that people are blaming Sifferman for something she did not start. I'm sure she did not go to work on Monday thinking that she was going to have to deal with a caller complaining about the way Hartland students acted on springbreak. Just like that guy and his family didn't ever think he would have this sort of issues ruin his vacation. If I put myself in this man's shoes...I'd be upset also. Not many people can afford to go places with their family these days and spending quality time with your family is what I'm sure he wanted. You can blame him all you want, but be real....Hartland students are all about letting it be know that they are from Hartland. They are groomed that way, especially when they are part of a team. Sifferman brought this up to protect your childern and make you aware of what happened. Or would some of the parents prefer that the administration continue to cover up issues and then have problems when it is found out that they weren't addressed. Fortunately, Patch isn't reporting a beating, murder or rape! Instead of bashing her for being forthcoming as to the nature of the call she recieved, maybe taking what she said and using it as a teachable lesson for parents to talk with their kids is in order? She didn't soley say it was HHS students. Amy & Robert(above) are right(correction:In DR), except apparently HHS students are angels now. People who make phone calls & write reviews usually don't just make things up. In my opinion.
Ann April 14, 2011 at 12:19 AM
I agree that informing the community about the misbehavior of its children, especially when they are visiting a foreign country, needs to be used as a" teachable moment". Blaming the person who points out the misbehavior of our children in any situation is often the first response which is not very constructive for our children or our community. As parents, we can't just look the other way and hope that our children will not get caught, and then when they do, try to explain away their misbehavior by blaming the persons who point it out. Although this is painful for some who are directly involved right now, I hope this incident can be used as an example of what so often happens on such spring break trips. If parents and their teenage high school students want to go on spring break next year, maybe there will be more open discussion about how to best represent their school, their state, their country and, yes, themselves and their families.
Anonymous April 14, 2011 at 12:47 AM
Of I have heard of drinking, drug exchanges during school. Am I naive to think while away in places that allow drinking under age 21 that it wouldn't happen with these same kids. No. I agree with Linda Brown. I also agree with others too. Sifferman nor anyone else actually enforces the zero tolerance rules we supposedly have against drugs & alcohol within Hartland schools. I have also heard of people found with drugs & or selling them and they get suspended & are now back in school. Obviously never enforcing the rules Hartland stands by supposedly. Do we need pictures of kids puking in a pool to know the real reason most went to punta cana or any other place that allows underage drinking. First off, this starts at home as a parent why would let your child go on a trip to where underage drinking is allowed?? The guy who reported this I feel bad that his vacation was ruined by children in my/community. And I'm sure others too. I'm not at all surprised parents were allowing it either I hear about this more often than not sadly. Calls from strangers articles on patch it doesn't really matter I had already been hearing & seeing pictures of kids drinking & other things already. :( As many have said at least no one murdered, raped or god help us something else.
Tammy L April 14, 2011 at 12:48 AM
I was a guest at the ocean Blue & Sand with my husband april 1-8. I met students from hartland and must say I was shocked by the behavior witnessed. I would have to agree that some students are very lucky there were not more injures. I personally witnessed a young girl being rushed to the medical clinic from the lobby bar around 10:30 pm because she passed-out and was foaming at the mouth. I witnessed a couple having sex on the stairs of my villa leading to the guest rooms. When asked to move along we were told to go "f" ourselfs. The pools,bars,disco,and just about every inch of the place was covered with these druken teens. Went to the mike's coffee to get a drink one night and a young man with a big water bottle half full of red wine started swearing that he was america and americans don't wait in lines. There was about 5 people in front of him. He leaned over the counter trying to pour his wine in the sink and missed and spilled it all over the floor. He and his friends started laughing and walked out. RUDE!!! I went to the market just off out resort to by trinkets for home. They try to barder with you but the teens from michigin were bardering with kisses and pulling down their tops for discount prices. Where are the parents????? Do you need more examples? I have a week's worth. I didn't see many parents with them and the ones I did see (some mothers in a group at the lobby bar) were also intoxicated and running arond like they were 17! Disgrace!
ANONYMOUS April 14, 2011 at 01:45 AM
As I read these comments I cannot help to laugh at the fact that everyone is forgetting who got these students here in the first place. Their parents. I understand that going to a country where one can legally drink would a perfect way to have a good time! However disrupting other guests is completely unacceptable. For all those who commented above doubting the fact that this caller to Sifferman was telling truth I ask you this. Do you really, honestly think that some guy from Grand Rapids would call and make this up? You know what, you guys are probably right! He called and made it all up! Just to be funny!.. Doubtful. I find it also very interesting that it is hard for some to believe that this Grand Rapids parent knew they were from Hartland! Again.. He didn’t make it up!! Did he just guess they were from Hartland? Nope. They could have been wearing a Hartland T-shirt!!! Or overheard a conversation! Simple as that!
Lindsey April 14, 2011 at 01:49 AM
My sister and I are students at HHS. I am a senior and she is a sophomore. I did not go on the spring break trip to Punta Cana, but have seen many pictures and heard many stories that back up what Ms. Sifferman is saying. Girls that I am friends with on Facebook posted hundreds of pictures of their vacation. There's no way these students were sober in these pictures, and I know that the drinking age is actually 21 in the Dominican. There were pictures of girls kissing each other, girls licking random guys nipples, pretending to lick a man's butt at the bar, and grinding on random guys in a club. I am embarrassed to be a senior of 2011. I am surprised nobody died from alcohol poisoning and that nobody was kidnapped, because the level of alcohol in their bodies definitely could have prevented them from functioning normally. I was jealous of this group that went to Punta Cana, but now I'm just disgusted with their behavior. As a senior that makes responsible choices and sees these kids on a daily basis, I would like to support everything Ms. Sifferman is saying.
ANONYMOUS April 14, 2011 at 01:50 AM
( Continued from above) If this vacationer felt his vacation was disrupted enough to where he had to say something.. What would the resort do if he complained? Nothing. Would he contact the parents? Nope. They were there promoting it! So who should he contact about this? Why not the superintendent of the school they go to? I can bet that he simply wanted to inform her/someone about what happened because he was disgusted with their behavior. Also to add something, Stating the FACT that the resort has X amount of guests and X amount of pools and X amount of bars only shows that you read the resort homepage? Just because there were only 30 or so students there that were supposedly being inappropriate out of 1500 or so.. It only takes one to set a bad impression, and it takes about 30 to make that same impression 30 times worse.
Kate April 14, 2011 at 03:20 AM
I just want to say, that this all would have blown over if parents of the kids on this trip did not comment. All you have to do is read and agree or disagree. You know what happened or did not happen and you should not feel the need to justify it to anyone. It was your trip with your daughters or sons. Also do not put everything on facebook. There is no need to be any pictures of the girls or boys drinking because even if they were legal there they are not legal here. Future colleges and jobs do networking through facebook and do check up on you. Honestly, I was a senior a couple years ago at a different school and we did go to Mexico where it was legal for us to drink. Our parents were there and reading the stories nothing like that happened to us. I think taking your child as a senior to place where they are legal to drink is good as long as you are responsible. This is because it is a safe way to expose these seniors, your children, to alcohol before they are on their own in college and make mistakes like these kids obviously did on their vacation. With that said even though you are on vacation you still need to supervise your children.
anonymous April 14, 2011 at 03:20 AM
As a student who went on the trip to Punta Cana, I think this whole article, as well as the comments regarding the issue, is ridiculous. Yes, there was drinking. Yes, there was dancing, and yes, there were a few poor choices made. Regardless though, this trip was planned solely by families and had absolutely nothing to do with the Hartland school district or any other part of administration. What happened on the trip is nobody else's business, aside from the students and parents there. Also, just to clear up any misunderstandings brought about by this whole ordeal, not one person from Hartland 'puked in the pools,' 'threw things off balconies,' or 'tried selling marijuana or cocaine'.. to anyone. It may have been said jokingly, but only because we were warned about the drug problem going on in the little beachfront stores we bartered at. I can understand the whole obnoxious and rude thing the man was talking about, as well as 'taking over the pool,' but that wasn't just Hartland; that was the five or six high schools in Michigan, the high school from Kentucky, the group from Canada, the other teens who were there from various other places around the country, and their families. AND, just to clear it up.. the girl foaming at the mouth was not anyone from this area. Also, she was one of the only teens that had such a major scare over the course of the week - the trip really was not nearly as bad as anyone's saying. Glad you're all concerned, but again, mind your own business.
Kim April 14, 2011 at 03:35 AM
I have just finished looking over the same reviews from Trip Adviser and I see mention of seniors from Ohio and from Michigan. I did not see where Hartland was mentioned; as a matter of fact not even cities, only states. I am also a believer in 2 sides to every story. This is where there needs to be investigation into said allegations, especially something like this. I believe that there should have more investigation on EVERYONES part. This is also why I tend not to believe much of the stories I see and read in the bigger news papers. Because of Janet Sifferman and this article the entire graduating class of 2011 from Hartland High School has been blown a black eye because of not thinking through the options or consequents of this being released to early. Ever stop to think that someone may have said they were from Hartland because they did not want to start trouble for their own school and knew that Hartland students were staying there, so then blamed Hartland. Blame game happens all the time.
Kim April 14, 2011 at 03:35 AM
Con't: Believe me I am not one to say that my children cannot do wrong because we are all human and make errors. And in no way am I excusing what the teens did (or the parents for allowing this to happen) My mind is not convinced that it was Hartland High School. From what I seen it could have easily been another school. If the man had names then maybe Janet Sifferman should have checked with them before bringing this up in a board meeting, it could have waited until the next meeting. I by no means am saying that they are innocent I am just saying that the allegations could be wrong. I would like to see a follow up to this article after the investigation is done. Last of all I would like to say remember your spring break and what you did? Again we are all human and make mistakes.
Kim April 14, 2011 at 03:45 AM
Greg to a point I agree with you that this happened off school time, but this also refects on what is going on in the commuity. Hartland, Howell, Brighton, Huron Valley and every other district around the country.
ATaborda April 14, 2011 at 10:35 AM
It's sad to read so many adults justifying children's drinking to such excess. It was my understanding while at the Ocean resort that students from multiple Michigan High schools were partying together. The students ran as a pack, with bravado! My biggest concern (as an adult who thought spring breaks should have been long over and that we would have been spared this) was the safety of these students. They did not ruin my vacation, but they most certainly changed my vacation.
Tammy L April 14, 2011 at 10:55 AM
Just to let you know, it was a group of 5 fathers who told me their sons all attended Hartland. Theses are the same fathers who when I mentioned there would probably be some unplanned pregnancies out of this trip laughed and said they had lots of condoms. They seemed proud their sons were getting laid? Apple doesn't far fall. I can see why their kids act the way they do.
Jared April 14, 2011 at 12:12 PM
"NONE of these kids got in trouble with the resort or security, none got in trouble with the law, no child was removed from any event or location. NONE went to the resort doctor, none to the local hospital, none were missing, no fighting occurred. All of those things happened at other resorts in Punta Cana" I believe you are refering to my group of friends that went to Punta Cana. None of this is true except for one member of the group going to the hopsital, which is a very personal matter. All of the other comments are completely fabricated rumors. Please review your facts before you post.
Tom Thompson April 14, 2011 at 01:20 PM
This is stupid. All of these people that are commenting agreeing with sifferman are probably just upset that they didnt get to go on there own spring break. It happens every where. Not just punta cana. Kids in mexico drank? Kids in Florida drank? Its not legal to drink in the states, but yet punta cana kids are the ones getting all of the blame. Even if someone calls and cries about having a bad vacation, doesnt give Sifferman the right to release it to the press. A kid got stabed in Hartland before spring break? Where is the aritcle about that? She must have no comment on that! Ridiculous!
Kim April 14, 2011 at 01:50 PM
I agree Tom and Travis. This was not even a school event. Where was the artical when the whole hotel went on lock down during the DECA field trip to State finals?
debra April 14, 2011 at 01:56 PM
Why does it matter? Everyone was out of the country it was not a school trip it was a bunch of friends on vacation the school board should not get involved for something that went on outside of school, find something else to complain about.
ANONYMOUS April 14, 2011 at 02:00 PM
Interesting, apparently everyone siding with Sifferman wanted to go on Spring Break and make poor decisions? A part of me kinda finds that almost impossible to believe. There are ways to have a good time and not make poor choices. anyway.. there is an article for the stabbing, its right here: http://hartland.patch.com/articles/hartland-school-board-approves-expulsions Fourth Paragraph down, it clearly states what happened, and yes it also states they (patch) could not find anything else after hours on monday, However what else is there to say? There was a stabbing.. enough said. Also, what would Sifferman have to comment about the stabbing? She might release the facts about it, but everyone already knows about that. Back to spring break, she simply is notifying the community what they already know about this spring break trip. Facebook was the unofficial way to hear about this, and this article is just the formal way, Facebook used to be the "official" way, but I guess for some reason seeing it in article form made people more disgusted, yes the article could have been avoided, however I see it as an eye opener for those who didn't see anything wrong in the Facebook Pictures.
debra April 14, 2011 at 02:07 PM
if you werent there you wouldnt know
ANONYMOUS April 14, 2011 at 02:08 PM
Yeah I guess the school board shouldn't get involved, however I personally am disgusted by the pictures posted on Facebook. To me the pictures didn't appear to be just "friends on vacation" it appeared to be "friends with benefits on vacation" completely inappropriate for Facebook.
Ann April 14, 2011 at 02:11 PM
Tom, Quite the contrary. All of these people who did not go on this spring break are now very happy that they did not go. The parents of the children are especially happy and some even feel vindicated by vetoing their child's desire to go. Parents who have their children's best interest at heart or parents who are not actually children themselves are able to use this as an example that teenagers have no good reason for going on a spring break such as this. They could better use their time and money elsewhere.
Ted Jones April 14, 2011 at 02:52 PM
Learn how to drink rookies
Christofer Machniak April 14, 2011 at 03:09 PM
Hello everyone, I just deleted a few posts that violated our terms of use. … http://hartland.patch.com/terms … There's a long list of what we don't allow, but it might boil to three main policies: “Keep it clean,” “Don’t try to trick people,” and “Treat others as you’d like to be treated.” Obviously, people feel strongly on this issue and we encourage discussion to express your thoughts, but this isn't a forum where anything goes. Also, note you can flag comments you feel inappropriate to help us moderate. If anyone has any questions or concerns, please contact me at 810-623-1385 or email at christofer.machniak@patch.com.
Christofer Machniak April 14, 2011 at 06:52 PM
In light of the inappropriate posts that we had to remove, we’ve decided to close down comments on this story. While we feel the many in community have engaged in a robust discussion about this story, the tone of this specific conversation was going in a direction that we don’t want to see or view as productive. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns — 810-623-1385 or christofer.machniak@patch.com.


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