A culture of intimidation, harassment and entitlement has left an odor of decay along the halls of Juneau schools, according to several parents, who say their children are being more than just bullied by older students.
The parents, who all agreed to Empire interviews but later requested their names be withheld in fear of retaliation, said the incidences are far worse than typical schoolyard hazing. They say the encounters are more in line with kidnapping and assault.
The most recent incident was on May 31, where middle school students gathered for an end of the year party at a Mendenhall Valley home. High school students crashed the party at one point, and “kidnapped” several of the incoming freshmen boys.
One parent said their child “escaped the kidnapping that happened two weeks ago” by hiding in a ditch culvert off Glacier Highway near Southeast Waffle Co. Two of his classmates didn’t get away, however, and were taken to another location and beaten with a wooden paddle by upperclassmen while observers watched.
“That was pretty horrible,” the parent said.
A parent of one of the boys paddled sent a photo of her son’s wounds, which showed dark purple bruising several inches thick from hip to hip. The photo is not being published due to its graphic nature. Another parent sent the Empire a picture of a paddle believed to have been used that night. It appeared to be a sawed-off boat oar with holes drilled through it.
According to parents, the same upperclassmen kidnapped two different groups on May 31. One group was taken to the site called “The Pit” at Montana Creek Road, the other occurred at Skater’s Cabin.
The youths hanging out in the Mendenhall Valley told their parents the attackers were begged to stop by peers not participating directly in the attack.
“My child could not sleep for nights,” one parent said. “The bruising was so vicious.”
Another parent said the aggressors bragged about the paddle they used through tweets, while another said their child now carries a knife because they question his safety.
The allegations are being investigated by the Juneau School District and has included involvement from the Juneau Police Department.
JSD chief of staff Kristin Bartlett said the district is aware of the incidences and the principals of Juneau’s three high schools are working together to investigate the reports.
“At this time, the school administrators are following up on leads and encouraging students to come forward to report what they know, and it is being done on a broad scale, not specific to one school, one activity or one group of students,” she said. “The issue is being taken seriously by the school district and definitely hazing is considered a form of bullying and is prohibited by board policy. It is not something that is taken lightly.
“When students come forward and share information with trusted adults in our district, we can solve a lot of problems and prevent a lot of problems. That is what the school administrators hope will happen in this case,” she said.
Juneau-Douglas High School principal Paula Casperson, Thunder Mountain principal Dan Larson and Yaakoosge Daakahidi principal Kristin Garot have been following up on the allegations.
“We have heard rumors of some ongoing hazing and bullying,” Casperson said. “We met a couple of weeks ago and tried to triage the information we were getting and put together the pieces and parts we were hearing. Our school-based investigations revealed it was a handful of ... upcoming seniors and three incoming ninth-grade students that are going to two of the three high schools.”
Casperson stated that earlier emails being circulated in the community had linked the allegations to the JDHS football team and JDHS students in general, but her investigation didn’t corroborate that information.
Casperson said she isn’t able to file a report with police on behalf of the students assaulted.
“From a school perspective, we cannot file police reports,” she said. “We can encourage parents to file on behalf of minor students. In none of our systems are we able to file on behalf of minor students. Victims certainly can file criminal charges in many of these cases.”
Casperson said the schools’ role is to investigate and initiate consequences.
“It is absolutely unacceptable and they do not get the summer months off from consequences if you behave in such an inappropriate manner,” she said. “The bottom line in the Juneau School District is that an avenue of recourse can only be pursued so far, and without a victim or a victim’s guardian coming forward, the current investigation will likely remain at a standstill.
“If parents know of these things, if these things are happening to their children, they should contact the schools,” Casperson said. “And all three principals feel the same way. We don’t want students to think that because this is June and July that they can usurp our expectations of their behavior.”
Beyond the beatings
Aside from the May 31 paddling incidences, a diabetic JDHS student began seizing at the school earlier this year after a few of his older teammates on the basketball team stripped him naked and assaulted him in the locker room, then left taking with them his clothes and the backpack carrying his insulin.
There was a suspension in that case, but shortly after, the victim’s house was egged and windows broken out in separate attacks, according to the youth’s parents. The family said they’re leaving Juneau as a result.
Casperson said she couldn’t discuss the locker room incident at her school.
“If a minor student was suspended earlier this year, I couldn’t talk about that,” she said. “If a minor student was suspended at all, I could not talk about it. That is a minor student and I have to protect their privacy rights. The bottom line is, as a collective among the three principals, we have taken a very proactive approach with the information we have. In lieu of a student or family stepping forward and filing a criminal complaint, what we have done is try and triage the information we have and send the messages to our student bodies and our coaching staffs that this (behavior) is not tolerated.
One of the parents interviewed said they were shown a list of incoming freshmen girls selected by older high school girls for an initiation involving stripping them naked, leaving them out the road, and then having upper class boys go pick them up.
“We have heard this is the initiation payment for this year’s incoming class of selected freshmen girls,” the parent said. “It feels to me that the school administrators are trying to sweep it under the rug because there are a couple of their star athletes who are the leaders in this. I know for a fact that athletes lied to administrators. I don’t understand why they are still wearing a football uniform — representing our schools — and I am disgusted.”
JDHS coach: Wasn’t my team
When asked how he handled the allegations, incoming Juneau-Douglas High School football coach Kevin Hamrick said he hadn’t.
“I have not addressed any allegations,” Hamrick said. “My activities director and principal had a meeting with me. They were given six names and none of them were students from JDHS, and that is all I needed to know.”
Hamrick said the school district has a zero tolerance policy for hazing and offenders would be suspended.
“We have had the talk, of course, because the rumors get floating around,” Hamrick said. “But that was the official word from my two bosses. There is a third high school that was involved, I think.”
Hamrick said he isn’t on twitter or Facebook and is unaware of the allegations floating around in cyberspace.
“All I act on is what my principal and activities director tell me to act on,” he said. “They told me that there were no students who went to JDHS last year that were identified in the hazing incident.”
As a coach, Hamrick said he discusses the topic of bullying at the start of preseason.
“I am part of the Coaching Boys to Men movement,” he said. “Even the very first day of practice, when we are cleaning out bags and some of the guys said, ‘Freshman, grab those bags,’ I said, ‘Nope, there is no classification here, everybody go grab the bags.’ We are getting totally away from any sort of differentiation between players at all, whether they are seniors, juniors, sophomores or freshmen. Everybody will pick up the bags, everybody is treated equally.”
The JDHS football team is currently at a team camp in Boise, Idaho.
“That is one of the first things they talked about here at camp,” Hamrick said. “I think it is the modern movement in football. I am a teacher first. I tell my players that football ends, it might be in high school or it might be tomorrow or in college or the pros, but football ends and they need to have a backup plan. That is one of my points.”
Hamrick acknowledged the ongoing police investigation, and said rumors that one of his star players was involved has been unfounded.
A Juneau Police Department spokesperson said they were aware of an incident where an officer spoke with the school district, adding that the district is handling the situation.
“I was informed after the police investigation and I know that there were some people in town throwing around one of my player’s names, but there was no justification to it that I have been made aware of,” Hamrick said. “I think part of it was just an exaggeration. The very first person I heard anything from was Jeep Rice.”
Falcons coach fires back
Thunder Mountain High School coach Jeep Rice had a different view of the attackers. Some of his players were among the victims.
“I have knowledge that a couple of our players were victims,” Rice said. “I have knowledge that a couple of (JDHS’) players did it. Will they come forward and prove it in a court of law? No. (Hamrick) hasn’t done crap. He has a (player) that was one of the main instigators and actually held the bat, but nothing is going to happen there. We are very upset about it, but we are not in a position to do anything about it. Maybe the principals of the schools are.”
Rice said his players that were assaulted are terrified.
“They are scared,” he said. “They are little frickin’ freshmen that weigh about 110 or 120 pounds, and they were frickin’ molested by 250-pound kids and swatted by another kid, who is 200 pounds or whatever he is. They are scared sh*tless. They were taken away. They were kidnapped and taken a couple miles away. Hazing is kind of a slippery slope. There is hazing where, ‘Hey, carry my bag,’ or whatever. This is actually assault. This is taking kids off site, away from their home.”
Rice was noticeably upset about not just the act, but also the handling of it afterward.
“This is freakin’ kidnapping and assault, damnit,” he said.
Rice said the TMHS Falcons have a zero tolerance for hazing.
“We don’t even allow the seniors to tell the freshman to carry their bags off the bus for a game,” Rice said. “Our tolerance level is down at the insignificant level. We also make it a point that this is our family, our group, these are all our brothers. We handle it that way. We, as a family, do not have tolerance for that sort of thing.”
According to school officials, it took some sorting to discern one reported bullying incident from another leading into the May 31 attack.
“It took us a while to figure out what happened on this day, who was present, who was actively paddling and (which) people were watching,” Casperson said. “The consequences are the same for either of those scenarios, but we need victims or parents to come forward.”
The message is very clear from school administrators: “June or July, or early August are not off months for poor behavior,” Casperson said. “We are absolutely and fundamentally opposed to any kind of this behavior. If families know of this behavior, please call your resident school. This can’t happen, this behavior is not ok.”
A JPD spokesman said “there is no bullying law,” but bullying can be construed as an illegal activity.
“Some bullying activity can violate law and some doesn’t,” JPD Lt. David Campbell said. “There is nothing that talks about that. The laws that surround assault, disorderly conduct and harassment, all of those still apply but they have their own element of offenses. Bullying is such a broad term that if it fits one of these other statutes, then ... that will be applied. Bullying and hazing are two very broad terms that don’t have any kind of criminal statute associated with them. What we look at is who, what, where, when and why, and does it meet a crime?"
“If somebody is paddled against their will and hurt, well, yes, that is an assault,” he said.