Seven male high school seniors have been identified as the perpetrators in a late-May hazing incident in which upperclassmen abducted a group of incoming freshmen and beat them with a paddle in the woods.
Six freshmen have been identified as the victims. The findings are the result of a month-long district investigation of high school students led by a private lawyer, Anchorage’s John Sedor.
In a Wednesday press conference, Superintendent Mark Miller announced the results of the investigation and said the district will not release the names of the perpetrators or their punishments.
“The school has a legal obligation to keep all student names, as well as student consequences, confidential,” he said in a statement at the conference.
He did say punishments for the seven paddlers align with the district’s consequences for bullying: “appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion,” according to JSD Board of Education policy. Miller wouldn’t get more specific than that.
All three high schools were represented in the group of students involved in the May incident, Miller said. Four of the students who committed the bullying are athletes on school sports teams, he said. He would not say which teams. The other three were not affiliated with sports teams.
He said that if a student athlete is suspended or expelled, he or she is not allowed to participate in school sports during that time, according to district rules. Miller wouldn’t say if the offending students have already been punished, but that the identified seniors will have the option to appeal the district’s decision.
Parents of the student aggressors and victims were notified of the investigation’s findings. The only people who were notified of consequences for the perpetrators are those students and their parents. Miller said some of the seniors are 18 or older.
Even though the paddling incident took place a couple days after school let out in May, Sedor advised the district it could still take action against the perpetrators because it was a “school-related activity” and “would not have occurred” otherwise, Miller said.
It’s unclear why certain seniors participated in the hazing and how they chose their freshman victims, Miller said. A member of Sedor’s staff investigated the social media aspect of the incident, looking at Twitter and Facebook posts to figure out the complicated situation.
The incident was “a fairly complex social tool,” Miller said.
This wasn’t the first year the initiation occurred. The paddling “tradition” dates back decades, Miller said. He said the district’s investigation is closed and it is not attempting to track down any past victims or perpetrators.
The district investigation, without the help of Sedor, began in early June after a student notified a principal about the incident, Miller said. It stopped later in the summer because the Juneau Police Department was doing an investigation of its own. That investigation died on the vine because none of the victims stepped forward. The district resumed its investigation in August with the assistance of Sedor. Miller said the district will not be sharing its findings with JPD.
“Our findings are school-related and are attorney-client privileged, so at this time they will remain only with the school district,” he said in an email.
In response to the findings, the school board is looking at revising its hazing and bullying policies, board President Sally Saddler said. Sedor is reviewing the district’s policies and will give the board a recommendation on any changes. At this point, Saddler is not sure what might be changed, she said.
“Any time there’s a major incident, it’s prudent for us to review our policies,” Saddler said. “Any time we have an incident, that’s what we’re going to do. It’s a just a good prudent way to operate.”
Besides policy changes, Miller said he wants to end the culture of hazing in the district, and hopes to implement some kind of anti-bullying curriculum or training, although he doesn’t yet know what that will look like. He said the district is focusing on the future.
“While student accountability is important, taking steps to ensure that this type of behavior is never repeated is even more important,” he said at the press conference.
One parent at the conference asked Miller why, if the district wants to make sure the hazing ends, it won’t disclose how the seniors were punished.
TMHS principal Dan Larson said in a phone interview after the conference that the “biggest misconception out there” is that high schools aren’t already doing anti-bullying training. At TMHS, there are a “variety of supports and educational programs that are in place and will remain in place” that are part of the school’s weekly homeroom curriculum. One of these is a new program through Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies called “Stand Up, Speak Up Alaska.”
Larson said although this paddling case was high-profile, the district has a relatively low rate of hazing.
“The message to the community is: Can we get better? Absolutely. We can always get better,” he said. “We’re not sticking our heads in the sand, we’re not saying we don’t have a problem, we’re saying we have a low incidence rate.”
He said he hopes that after the district’s Wednesday announcement “we have established some common ground and can move together and not be so divisive. It’s a divisive topic.”
JDHS principal Paula Casperson and YDHS principal Kristin Garot were not available for comment by press time.
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.