Underage drinking kills DECA at AVHS

School officials say problem has persisted for two decades

Instances of underage drinking during school-sponsored DECA events have caused Apple Valley High School to suspend the program for at least four years, according to school officials.

“Sometimes decisions based on the actions of a few affect everyone,” school  Principal Stephen Degenaar said. “It’s unfortunate, but we’ve done all we can do to correct misbehavior and it hasn’t worked.”

Underage drinking has plagued the high school’s business-focused extracurricular activity for decades, but it all came to a head during an October event, Degenaar said.

While staying in a Bloomington hotel for a DECA competition on Oct. 28, an estimated two to three Apple Valley students smuggled alcohol into their room. By approximately 10:30 p.m., hotel security found about 60 students from several high schools drinking alcohol in one of the Apple Valley student’s rooms, according to a letter to parents from Degenaar.

Degenaar said he believes about 18 Apple Valley students were drinking in the hotel that evening. He doesn’t think any other students from the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District attended the party.

Poor behavior spanning 20 years of DECA trips has not been limited to underage drinking, Degenaar said. Hazing has also been an issue.

Officials considered dropping DECA, a national program found in many high schools, from Apple Valley High in 2010 when the adviser retired, but parents fought to keep the program. After a parent group raised money to pay the stipend, two business teachers agreed to fill the position.

The new advisers had concerns about past issues on DECA trips and made it clear they would immediately step down if such issues arose. As promised, both quit the program within days of the incident.

Degenaar said he believes underage drinking has become an issue at DECA events, in particular, due to the frequent hotel stays associated with the program.

If the program returns to Apple Valley, students would no longer be able to stay in hotels during events in the Twin Cities, Degenaar said. Students would continue to stay in a hotel during the national competition, he said.

Degenaar said he is not aware of underage drinking incidents during the club’s national trips, which are limited to a select few.

The school’s decision comes as a great disappointment to Shalom Ewald of Burnsville, whose 16-year-old son, August, was a member of the Apple Valley team. August is not believed to be involved in the incident, and another five DECA students were not at the hotel that night.

“They should have suspended these students (at the hotel) instead of barring it for everyone,” Ewald said. “More than half the kids weren’t doing anything wrong.”

Ewald said she wishes  the school would have at least allowed students to finish the competition season before canceling the program.

Her son finished his latest project but won’t be able to bring it to competition. Students involved in DECA are able to compete in areas of business, marketing and finance.

“We’re devastated by this,” she said. “He put so much time into his projects and papers.”

Degenaar said he decided to immediately cancel the program to send a message that underage drinking at DECA events will not be tolerated.

Degenaar said he will consider reinstating the program after approximately four years, when all current DECA students have graduated.

That means August, a junior, will be unable to participate.

Since August is passionate about the program, Ewald said she’s researching whether he can join a team at another high school.

August isn’t the first in the Ewald family to find joy in DECA.

His older brother, Robinson, now a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was a state DECA champion at Apple Valley. As a high school freshman he was a high-achieving, straight-A student but shy around his peers, Ewald said. DECA helped him break out of his shell.

August, who has been involved in DECA since his freshman year, had hoped to take home state and national titles like his older brother.