After Hazing, Juneau School District Tries To Move Forward

The Juneau School District offices. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)
The Juneau School District offices. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The Juneau School District has spent at least $20,000 investigating and dealing with last May’s hazing incident where seven incoming seniors paddled six incoming freshmen.

The district took disciplinary action, which resulted in one student appeal. The school board will decide tonight (Tuesday) behind closed doors what to do with the student grievance.

The school district is trying to move forward proactively.

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As an athlete at Juneau-Douglas High School, junior Jon Scudder doesn’t think hazing is an issue, even in light of last May’s hazing incident when seven incoming seniors paddled six incoming freshmen. He’s been playing soccer and tennis since freshman year.

“I think that it got carried away this one time, but I do not think it’s a problem,” Jon says.

He says he hasn’t noticed an uptick of anti-bullying or anti-hazing messages from his coaches or teachers since the paddling.

“At the beginning of the sport, whatever it is, every student gets a talk about how bullying is not all right, drugs are not all right. Just the standard talk about all the things that you can’t do if you want to participate in these sports and I think it’s pretty standard every single year,” Jon says.

During the Juneau school board’s September meeting, state education commissioner Mike Hanley said athletic coaches are partly responsible for changing the culture of hazing. A couple weeks later, Juneau School District superintendent Mark Miller says he met with around 80 middle and high school coaches and activity instructors during two closed meetings.

“I made it clear – and everybody was on the same page before; I just reiterated – that hazing and bullying is not acceptable and that coaches need to be proactive in stopping it and report it immediately if they find out that it’s occurred,” Miller says.

The school district has spent at least $20,000 on the hazing investigation. Now, the district is in discussions with Gonzalez Marketing, an advertising and media firm in Anchorage. Miller says the firm will train sports and activities staff on how to more effectively communicate with media, parents and students. He says how staff represents the district is important.

“All coaches have at one time or another said something that they in retrospect would take back or speak differently. This is just a way to get everybody together and do some practicing,” Miller says.

The district is also sending two staff members to Arizona for intensive training on restorative justice, an alternative to traditional punishments of suspension and expulsion. It focuses on promoting respect, taking responsibility and strengthening relationships.

Miller says the goal is to implement a restorative justice plan throughout the district.

“Sending kids home from school as punishment has been shown to be terribly ineffective in both changing behavior and in improving the quality of education in the district,” he says.

The district never released who was punished for the May hazing incident due to student privacy rights. There was one appeal from the discipline process and Miller says the school board will decide tonight behind closed doors what to do with the student grievance.

Jon Scudder says he doesn’t need to know what the punishment was. As a student, he thinks the message on hazing is clear.

“People have realized that, like, if you do it, you will get caught and that it’s not all right,” Jon says.

He just wants everyone to focus on the positive.

“I feel like there was an incident that was a problem but that’s in the past and that we can move on and I think we’ve learned from it and that we can be a stronger community as a whole,” Jon says.

Jon will be a senior next year and he plans to welcome the incoming class with the same respect and encouragement he received as a freshman.