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.