Drinking incident is last straw for Apple Valley DECA club

  • Article by: HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 2, 2013 - 8:26 AM

The principal disbands business club, citing "a history of illegal and other inappropriate activities."

After more than a decade of behavior more suitable to "Animal House" than a brokerage house, the DECA club at Apple Valley High School has been given a pink slip after a number of students were reportedly drinking booze at an off-campus conference.

Principal Stephen Degenaar ordered that DECA, a club for business-minded students, be disbanded following an investigation into alleged drinking at a conference in Bloomington, one of the annual events that hundreds of DECA students attend.

About eight or nine students were eventually suspected of drinking alcohol, although the initial investigation focused on as many as 18 of the 24 who attended the conference in late October, according to a letter sent home by Degenaar.

"There is a history of illegal and other inappropriate activities with the ... DECA program," he wrote. "We have about 50 after-school programs ... DECA is No. 1 over the past 15 years in student misbehavior. It is time to retire DECA."

During that time, DECA members at conferences have been accused of underage drinking, hazing and trashing at least one hotel room.

Degenaar said this year's incident involved alcohol snuck into rooms in shampoo bottles and other containers. At one point about 60 students from several high schools were drinking in one of the Apple Valley rooms.

Degenaar said his hand was forced after the two faculty advisors, Chris Scanlon and John Christiansen, quit after the drinking scandal was uncovered at the hotel.

The two men could not be reached for comment. But Degenaar said they were "embarrassed" by the students' behavior at the conference.

"Our two new DECA advisors ... left their own families for the long weekend to be with the AVHS DECA students," Degenaar pointed out in his letter. "They were rewarded with most of the AVHS DECA students involved in yet another illegal activity."

Without adult supervision, the club was disbanded. But Degenaar took the additional step of outlawing the club for at least the next three years, long enough for the students suspected of drinking to graduate from high school.

"There's nobody on our faculty that is interested in running that program," he said.

Part of the problem is the club's history of drinking problems, which stretch back for decades to when Degenaar first arrived at the school.

"There were rumors of past alcohol usage at DECA from the time I got here" in the early 1990s, he said. "There were rules violations almost every year for the past 20 years."

He said he was able to confirm from past DECA members about the past underage drinking. The current situation has been harder to unravel.

All of the students at first suspected of drinking denied doing so. About eight or nine of those ultimately were determined likely to have consumed alcohol, the principal said.

As of last week none of the students had confessed.

That has not stopped the principal from doling out the punishments. Because some of the suspected drinkers were sophomores, he decided to ban the club for at least the next three years, although he is quick to point out that there is no guarantee it will be back.

Also, he said, if DECA does come back there no longer will be overnight stays at hotels for state conferences. "We just won't stay at hotels," he said.

Tony Taschner, the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school communications director, said that DECA is considered a school activity and that host schools have the final say on whether a club or activity will be allowed on campus.

Students do occasionally get caught drinking illegally at events, Taschner said. The punishment for a first offense, whether it happens on campus or off, is a five or 10-day suspension.

He said such situations are "fairly rare," as is the banning of a club or organization.

"I've done this for 24 years, and I can't recall a program ending for underage drinking," Degenaar said. "Virtually every season we are dealing with this. Those days are done."

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281

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