The saga of Erin Cox — the Massachusetts high school honors student and former volleyball team captain who was punished by her school for trying to help a drunk friend — has gone viral.
Despite overwhelming consensus that Cox — who police say was not drinking or in possession of alcohol — did the right thing and shouldn't have been suspended from her team or stripped of her captain's status, two prominent voices disagree.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving President Jan Withers told Fox News that North Andover High School was right to punish Cox, whom Withers said should have called an adult instead of driving to the party herself in an attempt to pick up her drunk friend.
“Underage drinking is so very dangerous, that’s why MADD appreciates this school’s effort,” said Withers, who nevertheless applauded Cox's intentions. “I’m not there and I don’t know all of the details, but indeed, their efforts to prevent underage drinking through zero tolerance are admirable."
The other dissenting voice? The school district, which hasn't backed down an inch since leveling sanctions against Cox.
"While some may decry the administration’s actions as unfair or inconsistent with the principles of due process, our administration wholeheartedly disagrees," Superintendent Kevin Hutchinson told Fox in a statement. "To be clear, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that participation in interscholastic athletics is a privilege. Rather than simply revoking the privilege, our administration has consistently afforded its student-athletes a reasonable opportunity to be heard before a disciplinary decision is made."
The North Andover Citizen posted an email from Boxford Police Officer Brian Neeley to the North Andover Public School administration about his encounter with Cox.
"... I responded with several other officers to an under aged party ... Erin Cox was one of many people under the age of 21 at the residence. I had the opportunity to speak with an (sic) observe Erin Cox while waiting for her mother to arrive. Erin did not have the slightest odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from her person. She was polite, articulate, steady on her feet, and very remorseful for her decision to go into the residence but was only helping out a friend that had called her for a ride. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me," Neeley wrote.
The Cox family filed a lawsuit in district court last week, and as TheBlaze reported, Cox family attorney Wendy Murphy told WBZ-TV that the school’s lawyer “said out loud, to a judge — and it was a lie — that Erin was arrested.”
Murphy told Fox News that school attorney Geoffrey Bok's actions were "an outrage and shows the length some school officials will go to to retaliate against a family that dares to challenge an irrational zero tolerance policy."
While the court ruled it had no jurisdiction in the case, Murphy told Fox News she'll pursue cases against both North Andover High School Principal Carla Scuzzarella and Bok in federal court. Neither commented to Fox News.
Meanwhile, Cox's story is eliciting reaction from more and more prominent corners: "The story of Erin Cox, the Boston high school student suspended for being called in as a designated driver is unconscionable," former Florida congressman Allen West wrote on his web site. "Sadly, it is indicative of the statist drive permeating our culture to negate individual initiative, personal responsibility, accountability, and acts of honor."
The Cox family is getting a boost courtesy of a North Andover alum who heard Erin's story and decided to help.
Matt Holland, 33, was a North Andover athlete and told CBS News' Crimesider that the school's zero-tolerance policy in this case is overreaching, unfair and embarrassing for the town.
"I don't think they have the legal authority to do this," said Holland, who created the Erin Cox Award for Exemplary Action on gofundme.com with the goal of raising $1,000 for Erin and her family. "Maybe they'll use it for college tuition," he told CBS News.
As of Thursday afternoon, the fund had raised $895.
Cox has now finished her suspension, ESPN reported, adding that she was in attendance and cheered on her teammates as they won their match Wednesday — the fifth of the five games Cox was barred from — improving to a 13-1 record.
North Andover coach Veronica Schafer had no comment after the match, ESPN reported, saying the administration advised her to not speak about Cox's suspension.
Cox is eligible to return for Friday's match at Billerica Memorial High School.
Here's an update from ABC's "Good Morning America" via YouTube:
Here's commentary from WPIX-TV: