RCS superintendent, trustee respond to field trip photos of students on nightclub poles

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published January 24, 2023


ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — A Michigan school district is catching heat after allegedly bringing students on a field trip that ended at a restaurant with an attached lounge that includes nightclub poles.

Following a field trip to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Nov. 16, sixth grade band students from Hart Middle School were taken to lunch at Niki’s Pizza in Greektown.

Due to a lack of available space at the pizza place, Rochester Community Schools Board of Education Trustee Andrew Weaver said, some of the students were moved to an upstairs lounge to eat. The lounge includes a bar, as well as floor-to-ceiling metal poles, mounted on raised platforms.

District officials said Niki’s Lounge, which is only open on Saturday nights after 9 p.m., was not open to the public at the time of the field trip.

During the field trip, some sixth grade students were photographed using the metal poles while inside the lounge, and the photos were “posted publicly by someone that was on the trip,” according to Weaver.

Seven weeks later, Weaver said, he decided to share information about the field trip — including the photos of students on poles in the lounge — on his personal, public Facebook blog, called Finding the Right Answer, as part of his promise to the public to hold the district accountable.

“Our students ended up in this spot that was inappropriate for students,” Weaver said. “We should have known better.”

In a statement released Jan. 8, Weaver said “many community members feel that there is too much time and energy spent trying to stop people from knowing about the actions that reflect poorly on the District while not enough time or energy is spent on actually doing anything about the issue(s) at hand.”

Weaver said the district had plenty of time to address the incident publicly following the field trip but did not.

“The field trip really is a symptom of a problem with our district. It’s just another event that wasn’t handled properly. It wasn’t communicated properly, and we didn’t own up and say that we made a mistake, and how we were going to fix it,” he said in a phone interview. “When we make a mistake as a district, we don’t communicate it well and we don’t accept responsibility — and this is me speaking my opinion; I’m not speaking for the board.”

Superintendent Robert Shaner has a different view. He said any questions or concerns from parents and caregivers whose middle school students attended the November field trip “were addressed immediately by school administrators.”

On Jan. 13, Shaner also released a statement to parents confirming a picture was taken of “a few students playing on the poles” during the field trip, which he says circulated through some media outlets “with an incorrect narrative.”

Shaner said the restaurant has been hosting school field trips for more than 15 years, adding that “the owner of Niki’s Pizza reinforces that Niki’s does not provide adult entertainment as reported by some media outlets.”

“The safety and security of our students, staff and school community is always our priority. At no time were students exposed to inappropriate activity during the field trip,” Shaner said in the statement.

District officials said all proposed field trips are evaluated by a curriculum team and require a parental/guardian permission slip. Over the years, RCS field trips have included taking students to orchestra and theater productions, museums, state and U.S. capital tours, and local learning institutions such as Dutton Farm, the Rochester Hills Public Library and Dinosaur Hill, among others. Officials said it may be necessary to visit a restaurant, on occasion, to support longer field trips.

District processes also require adult chaperones to complete background checks prior to volunteering.

“RCS trusts that adult chaperones will use proper discretion to look after and protect students, which includes refraining from taking pictures and sharing them publicly without parental consent,” RCS Director of Strategic Communications Lori Grein said in a statement.

Whenever there is a concern, Grein said, it is important for parents to reach out to a teacher or administrator at their student’s school.

“They are the ones that can really help them, because they know their kids, and that’s really a big message that we want to reinforce,” she said. “We pride ourselves in the strong relationships with our parents, and, quite frankly, the strong relationships with our students too. It’s safe to come to us with concerns, and we’re going to work with you.”

A representative for Niki’s could not be reached for comment by press time.

For more information about Rochester Community Schools, visit www.rochester.k12.mi.us or call (248) 726-3000.