Sunday, February 12, 2017

Chicago Tribune: High School Hazing


Lake Zurich hazing: When adults look the other way

The reports have been largely redacted. The school inquiries have concluded. Two athletic officials at Lake Zurich High School have resigned, with a third expected to leave at the end of the school year.
But that's not the end to hazing allegations that arose a few months ago. An attorney for two alleged victims says the hazing involved sexual assault and acts of degradation involving football players. Parents of alleged victims filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the district, claiming school officials knew, or should have known, about locker room rituals that had been going on for years and were dismissed as tradition. Horseplay. Team bonding. Boys will be boys.
Uh, no. The alleged hazing — described in the lawsuit somewhat vaguely with portions redacted to protect identities — involves the football team engaging in acts of nudity and assault. The plaintiffs' attorney, Antonio Romanucci, says the behavior and culture dates back decades, though this case centers on two incidents last fall.
A security guard working for the district told investigators he heard music and chanting in the school locker room one weekday evening and interrupted an act he later described as "wrong." From the reports, he walked out but notified a team official later.

Another incident earlier in the school year had been brought to school officials' attention and involved forced nudity and urination, according to the lawsuit.
When administrators learned about the second incident, they sent a note to football parents describing the behavior as "egregious" and took steps to provide players with hazing education. They made the players perform community service work. Two athletic officials were placed on administrative leave and later resigned. Ex-head coach David Proffitt, who also was a physical education teacher, and assistant coach Chad Beaver, who also was a student dean, resigned with severance packages. Proffitt will receive $25,516 and Beaver will receive $12,146, documents show. Athletic director Rolando Vazquez has submitted a resignation effective at the end of the school year.
Lake Zurich police and the Lake County state's attorney's office opened investigations. No charges were brought. But Romanucci said the hazing involved forcing younger teammates to undress and undergo nonconsensual sexual acts. In prior years, according to the lawsuit, players urinated on other players, forced them to perform oral sex and shoved genitals in their faces.
These allegations are astounding, as is the charge that school officials did not address the accusations with the seriousness warranted. With the two incidents described in the lawsuit, the team was forced to do community service and learn about the dangers of hazing. Yet the alleged offenders got to keep playing football.
Kids often partake in hazing incidents because they're kids. They do stupid things. They suffer from group-think. They're under pressure to go along. It's up to the adults to draw a bright line that kids know is not to be crossed.
But where were the adults at Lake Zurich? Did no school officials or coaches realize what was going on? Did no parents question why their sons were in the school locker room on Thursday nights before game days, unsupervised?
This case should be another alarm bell to school officials, coaches and parents everywhere. Hazing is not cool or funny or playful. It's dangerous. It's humiliating. It's illegal.
Why it persists, often without serious punishment, boggles the mind. It ought to be met with zero tolerance.
At Glenbrook North High School in 2003, 33 seniors were expelled for throwing pig intestines, feces and chemicals onto younger classmates as a form of initiation. A year later at Glenbrook South, lacrosse players were suspended and the season canceled after they were accused of smacking younger players' behinds with wooden paddles.
A year later, Loyola Academy lacrosse players were accused of hazing students in an alcohol-related incident. Two players were forced out of the private Wilmette high school, and several others were suspended and dropped from the team.
In Maine Township High School District 207, a soccer coach was fired following a 2012 incident during which players allegedly poked younger players with fingers and sticks in their private parts.
It's so tragically unnecessary. What will motivate school officials to take swift and decisive action? Protecting kids is their job.
For that matter, when will all adults learn to take it seriously?
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