Juneau parents upset about student hazing

School officials say discipline was given in wrestling team incident

Posted: Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Some Juneau students came back from a high school wrestling meet in Petersburg a few weeks ago with injuries not common to their sport.

The frostbitten hands and welts on backsides were the result of hazing from older teammates, according to accounts from parents. The frostbite came after being ordered to hold onto ice until the skin burned. The welts came from being held down and paddled by a group of students.

Eventually, school officials found out and launched a two-week investigation that resulted in the punishment of some students.

"Discipline was given," said Juneau-Douglas High School Principal Bernie Sorenson at a meeting with members of the wrestling team, parents and coaches Tuesday night at Thunder Mountain High School. She added that she couldn't elaborate on punishments because of confidentiality rules.

But parents of the victims said the students who did the hazing were suspended for two days but will be allowed to compete with the wrestling team in an upcoming regional competition in Wrangell. The parents said the light punishment sends a message that the Juneau School District is tacitly approving hazing.

"We're rewarding them," said the mother of one victim at Tuesday's meeting. The Empire is withholding all parents' identities to protect the alleged victims. "What they did to my son was a violent crime, and I don't think justice has been served."

"They left behind scars that are permanent," she added, before Sorenson asked her to stop.

"I hope you guys are ashamed of yourselves, and I hope your parents are very disappointed in you," the mother of the victim finished, addressing her comments to the wrestlers.

Head coach Bob Cox said he didn't have a problem with having the students who committed the hazing rejoin his team.

"I think they should be subject to the rules, they should be subject to the discipline that the school provides, and they need to take responsibility for their actions," Cox said. "And once that's been administered, they should move on."

Parents of the victims said coaches should have been more mindful of the wrestlers and should be removed from coaching for not having better control of their students.

But Cox said that students "find ways" to do bad things away from the view of teachers or coaches.

Parents of victims were also upset that the school district didn't tell them that their children had been hazed. One victim's parents said they found out from another parent while Christmas shopping this last weekend.

"The school violated our trust," said one parent.

Some parents said they were considering their legal options, including the possibility of criminal charges filed in Petersburg.

An administrator for Thunder Mountain High School, where some of the wrestling team members attend school, said the district wanted to investigate the hazing charges before alerting parents of the victims. TMHS Activities Director Rhonda Hickok added that she had apologized to the parents for not telling them sooner.

Hickok, Sorenson, and other school administrators interviewed by the Empire universally condemned the hazing that occurred and said that the district has a strong anti-hazing policy.

And Sorenson said that her husband will accompany the wrestling team on the next trip as an extra chaperone.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.

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