The Juneau School District is conducting an independent third party investigation into an alleged hazing incident that took place two days after school ended in May.
New school superintendent Mark Miller says he contacted Anchorage-based attorney John Sedor two weeks ago to help the district with a case involving high school students.
“There’s an allegation that some older students either kidnapped or in some way took some younger students out to a remote area and there was paddling or hitting involved,” Miller says.
He says Sedor has worked with the Juneau School District for years and is an expert in school investigations.
“He’ll be working with the school district, with our employees to determine whether or not our school rules or policies have been violated and ensuring that both the victims and the alleged perpetrators receive due process,” Miller says.
Hazing is considered one of the most severe violations of board policies and school rules. The student handbooks of Juneau Douglas High School and Thunder Mountain High School say the minimum penalty for hazing is up to 10 days of suspension. The maximum penalty is permanent expulsion.
Over the summer, principals from all three Juneau high schools looked into the alleged hazing incident. Miller says the Juneau Police Department completed its investigation without filing any charges. He says the district’s probe is different than the police’s.
“We’re not looking at criminal charges. We’re looking at whether our policies were violated, our rules, which is a different question than what the police were looking for. We also have a lower standard of proof, if you will,” Miller says.
School board president Sally Saddler says the board is not directly involved with the investigation. She says members can’t receive any advance knowledge of it in case any grievances are filed.
She says the board has strong concerns about the hazing culture in Juneau.
“We feel that it’s important to do what we can to change that culture so our kids feel safe because it’s going to be really difficult for our kids to be able to meet their academic responsibilities if they don’t feel safe and secure in our schools. And so it’s incumbent upon us as board members, as a district and as a community to remove those barriers,” Saddler says.
She says the district has a well written policy about bullying and hazing.
“But that doesn’t mean it’s in practice, right? And I think that’s where board and community and district administration concerns lay. We feel we’ve got a pretty strong policy in place but clearly it’s not working or there are ways in which we need to tweak them,” Saddler says.
The board policy on hazing was last revised in 2011.
Superintendent Miller expects the outside investigation to wrap up within the next two weeks. He says any student discipline that may result will have to remain confidential due to students’ privacy rights.