By Bethany Bray
HAMILTON — In a town known for its horse culture, two Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School students were suspended last week for riding a horse to school, dressed as a knight and his squire, in the name of school spirit.
Senior Dan DePaolis wore a helmet from a suit of armor and rode a horse through the parking lot, accompanied by his "squire," sophomore Keegan Blute, as students walked into school Thursday for a medieval day during School Spirit Week.
DePaolis received a two-day suspension and Blute a one-day suspension and community service.
Principal Matthew Fox said yesterday that he "can't confirm, deny or discuss anything dealing with student discipline."
Fox would not answer further questions, including whether animals are allowed on school grounds.
DePaolis' parents, Ron and Julie, said Dan served his two days of suspension and returned to school yesterday.
The family's horse was on school property for five minutes, Ron DePaolis said, while Dan made a slow loop around the parking lot. The animal was brought to Hamilton in a trailer and parked across the street, at a friend's house.
Both parents supervised as their son rode the horse across the street and onto school property. Dan was soon confronted by an assistant principal who demanded he get off the horse and told him he was suspended on the spot, according to Ron DePaolis.
"I was taken aback," he said. "The process wasn't handled properly. They could have been much more professional. ... We would never have put our kid in this kind of position if we knew this was what the outcome would be."
Through last week, students were encouraged to dress up — from wearing togas to dressing as nerds or superheroes — to show school spirit.
More than 2,000 people have viewed a video of the horse incident that Dan DePaolis posted on YouTube. Students can be seen walking into school, within inches of the horse, as Blute, dressed in a medieval tunic, leads the horse ridden by DePaolis.
A message at the end of the video reads: "Our quest was short indeed! I was suspended for two days and my squire was suspended for one. He must serve two hours of community service. Until he completes his community service, they will hold his test grades ransom. All this for having the audacity for having spirit on spirit day and riding in on a horse in Hamilton, Mass. A horse community on the North Shore of Boston only one good nine-iron away from Myopia Hunt Club."
DePaolis lives in Essex and attends Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School in the school choice program. His parents say the teen has been around horses and riding since middle school.
"I can understand (the suspension) if he was galloping around, brandishing a sword with kids jumping out of the way. But that's not what happened," Ron DePaolis said.
Ron and Julie DePaolis said they were pleased with a meeting they had with Hamilton-Wenham Superintendent Raleigh Buchanan yesterday. They hope to have the suspension removed from Dan's record.
The high school's student handbook contains no mention of horses or animals explicitly but has an entry on using alternative transportation methods.
A paragraph on page 51 reads: "The use of bicycles, unicycles, skateboards, scooters, wheeled sneakers and/or any other motorized or wheeled transportation devices in the school building or before, during or after school is strictly prohibited for safety reasons."
A Spirit Week bulletin on the high school's website lists several rules from the principal for the knight-themed day, including no weapons. Wearing armor was allowed, but helmets were to be removed in classrooms.
In the video, DePaolis is wearing a helmet from a suit of armor and has a sword hanging from his waist.
On Thursday, seniors were asked to dress in theme with the musical "Spamalot," a spoof on King Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail. Juniors dressed in 1980s fashions from "Footloose," sophomores dressed from "Grease" and freshmen from "Annie."
Through Spirit Week, points were given to each class with students dressed within the day's theme.