School Board mulls tougher hazing policies

Under proposed rules, students could be barred from activities for an entire season

Posted: Monday, February 16, 2009

Students caught hazing or letting their classmates get away with it in their presence would be barred from all extracurricular school activities for a minimum of 30 days and banned from the particular sport or activity in which the incident occurred for an entire season, under a proposed policy the Juneau School Board is considering Tuesday.

The push for tougher hazing policies follows an incident during a high school wrestling team trip to Petersburg in November. According to parents, some of the younger athletes came back with frost bitten hands and welts on their backsides, the results of older teammates ordering them to hold ice until their skin burned, and paddling.

The school district held a two-week investigation. Some of the victims' parents said the students responsible for the hazing were let off too easy and that they shouldn't have been allowed back on the team after their brief suspensions.

District officials would not confirm what punishment was meted out because of confidentiality rules, though the existing policy on hazing is vague about penalties, stating only that students are subject to "appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion."

One of the toughest parts of the proposed revisions is the addition of "passive participation" to punishable behaviors related to hazing. It describes passive participation as "remaining present while others engage in (hazing) without attempting to stop or report it."

A staff report on the proposed changes flags that section as potentially cumbersome, given the ambiguous distinction between observation and passive participation, though School Board Vice President Andi Story stood by it.

"We really want hazing to be stopped. I think it's important if (students) see hazing, and they're watching, they really need to leave and report it," Story said. "As much as possible, we want hazing to stop. We believe passive participation will help that."

Shaun Nesheim, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School, said he would welcome the change.

"I'd say it'd be an appropriate policy change," Nesheim said.

Freshman Kelleen St. Claire had a similar take, and said a tougher policy might make someone think twice before antagonizing their teammate or classmate.

"There's a lot of people that think they can haze people, just because they're older, and I don't think that's right," St. Claire said.

The policy is being taken up on the first of two readings required for adoption. The board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the library of Juneau-Douglas High School. Story said public comment will be welcome on the topic.

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail

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