After concluding an investigation into an alleged hazing incident, the Juneau School District has identified seven high school seniors who participated in the paddling of six incoming freshmen. The incident took place shortly after school ended in May.
The district announced this at a press conference Wednesday, but it’s not naming any of the students involved or what punishments they could face.
Jim Bradley is the father of one of the victims. He says his son, a basketball player, was hit with a paddle about seven times and came home with huge welts.
“I found out through other people that it happened because he didn’t want to have it made anything of. He wanted it to disappear and go away and just call it the tradition of entering high school,” Bradley says.
The concept of initiation isn’t new to Bradley. He went through hazing himself as a student.
“When I was initiated I was, you know, eggs on my head, shaving cream, go swim in the lake or something like that, but never physically or mentally abused like these kids were,” he says.
Bradley and his son are dealing with the situation differently. Bradley’s son, who he doesn’t want to name, didn’t participate in the district’s investigation. Bradley did. He wants justice for his son.
“He’s had to deal with it ever since then. He’s had to be scared. He’s had to walk around the school and see his friends and he’s had to hide this from his friends and family, you know, the fact that he got hit,” Bradley says.
Superintendent Mark Miller says what happened at the end of May is not an isolated case. The investigation found that paddling as a form of initiation has been going on for at least ten years; other types of initiation for much longer.
“Apparently some of these seniors were actually hazed in a similar manner when they were freshmen so this is a pattern, a recurring violence that we have seen over time. One of the things that actually came out is, apparently, one of the paddles was passed down from one student to another,” Miller says.
Hazing is considered one of the most severe violations of board policies and school rules. The district’s high school discipline plan calls for a minimum penalty of one to 10 days of suspension. The maximum penalty is permanent expulsion.
All forms of initiation by school or non-school sponsored groups are also prohibited.
The seven seniors involved in the paddling attend various high schools. Four are athletes, but Miller says the hazing wasn’t related to any particular sport.
Attorney John Sedor, who was hired by the district for the investigation, went through emails and old postings on social media sites to uncover how the victims were chosen, but Miller says it’s still unclear.
He says the victims likely weren’t surprised that they were picked.
“Students generally, I believe, knew something like this was coming because, again, it’s been going on for so long that it’s a pattern. Everybody knew,” Miller says.
When asked if the students were taken against their will, Miller says, “I don’t think anybody wants to be taken out to the woods and paddled, but it was a rather complex social interaction.”
Miller says details of the investigation and names of the students are confidential due to student privacy issues and attorney-client privilege. The district is addressing the problem through disciplinary action, education and restorative justice.
“We’re still exploring exactly what it looks like, but the implementation of an anti-bullying curriculum with an advisory is something that we talked about working with our counselors to make sure that the message gets through to everybody – This is not OK. This needs to stop and everybody knows it needs to stop,” Miller says.
Bradley says he’s glad the district is punishing the students who did the paddling and trying to change the culture of hazing. He doesn’t want it to happen to next year’s incoming freshmen.
“And I also want to make sure that my son doesn’t feel entitled to do this in three more years. I’m not going to allow him to turn around and do this to anybody either,” Bradley says.
Since the paddling, Bradley’s been thinking about it every day. Now that something’s being done about it, he hopefully won’t have to.