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Canisius High School to enact policy reforms

Canisius High School will implement policy reforms in the wake of last year’s cheating allegations against a star football player.

But a formal investigation surrounding the events of November – which included the firing of a top school administrator – showed the incident was not part of a larger, systemic problem at the Jesuit boys school.

Those were the conclusions outlined by Canisius on Friday as it tries to bring some closure to the November suspension of senior Brad Zaffram, a standout senior linebacker on the football team, and the dismissal of Beck O’Connor, dean of students.

“Clearly some mistakes were made and adherence to certain disciplinary and administrative protocols were compromised,” said Robert J. Reger Jr., chairman of the Canisius board of trustees. “But we believe the independent review revealed only episodic missteps, not systemic flaws.

“Steps have been taken that should reinforce the school’s mission and values,” Reger said. “The additional recommended reforms will make the school even stronger and will clear up any misconceptions among our students, parents, teachers and alumni regarding the proper balance between academics and athletes.”

Canisius still remained silent Friday on the specifics of the circumstances of why O’Connor was fired and Zaffram suspended for the postseason.

The Buffalo News reported in November that O’Connor was dismissed for mishandling allegations that Zaffram cheated on an examination.

O’Connor, a source said at the time, treated the episode as the football player’s first-time offense, but other Canisius officials considered it as a repeat infraction because of an incident that happened while the student attended Sweet Home High School.

In that case, the source said, Zaffram had a cellphone turned on during a Regents exam, which was a violation of procedures.

As a result, the controversy focused on whether O’Connor – who was in charge of discipline – should have issued a letter of reprimand to Zaffram or imposed a suspension that includes being barred from extracurricular activities for 30 days.

Canisius hired attorney Terrence M. Connors, of Connors & Vilardo, to head the investigation and conduct a “huge” number of interviews with Canisius constituents. Partner Lawrence J. Vilardo, a prominent Canisius alumnus, recused himself from the investigation, Reger said.

“We wanted the truth and we told everybody if they had something on their minds, they needed to get in touch with Mr. Connors and his team,” Reger said Friday. “People at Canisius took us up on that.”

Ultimately, the board of trustees voted to implement changes that were recommended by Connors.

Most notable is moving toward a policy that prevents school administrators from serving as coaches. O’Connor was a coach in the football program at Canisius.

“There were a number of examples of people in high administrative roles that were also coaches,” Reger said. “The best practice would suggest that that’s a conflict of interest. You develop close relationships with your athletes and maybe, at the point in time where you need to be the most strict, you’re not. It’s really not a good idea to put a coach in that position.”

Canisius also will adhere to a stricter practice when it comes to admitting nontraditional applicants, including transfer students.

Zaffram – who is still at Canisius and will go to the University of Texas El Paso – was a transfer and Reger said there were many reasons he was admitted. But the investigation showed some other examples where admission protocol was more questionable.

“There were a couple examples, but not a lot,” Reger said. “But we’re putting the brakes on that for sure.”

In the larger picture, Reger said, Canisius doesn’t want other schools pointing fingers that it’s trying to recruit its athletes or make it easier for them to get in.