What Happens in a High School Hazing Investigation?

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What Happens in a High School Hazing Investigation?

Athletic Director Kendall Griffin speaks to student athletes after school on Wed., Sept. 27.

Athletic Director Kendall Griffin speaks to student athletes after school on Wed., Sept. 27.

Sammy Butera

Athletic Director Kendall Griffin speaks to student athletes after school on Wed., Sept. 27.

Sammy Butera

Sammy Butera

Athletic Director Kendall Griffin speaks to student athletes after school on Wed., Sept. 27.

By Grace Geraghty, Editor in Chief

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The Niles West code of conduct defines hazing as “any intentional, knowing, or reckless act directed against a student for the purpose of being initiated into, affiliating with, holding office in, or maintaining membership in any organization, club, athletic team, secret society, or other group whose members are or include other students.”

If an instance of hazing or other harassment occurs and is brought to the administration’s attention, the school first launches an investigation, as Niles North has done in the wake of the recent allegations of hazing on its varsity football team.

“Anytime you have an allegation of hazing, bullying, harassment, or anything that makes someone feel uncomfortable here at Niles West, we have to look into it, we have to investigate it, we have to find all the facts out, very similar to what Niles North is doing now with their situation,” Niles West principal Jason Ness said. “It has to be very methodical and intentional.”

Penalties for hazing outlined in the handbook range from parent conferences for more minor infractions to police referral in the most severe cases. The athletic department defers to administration and the code of conduct

“We talk about our code of conduct at our CAP (coaches, athletes, and parents) meetings every year,” athletic director Kendall Griffin said, referencing an institute course the district hosted for coaches last year in which they were taught to recognize the symptomatic behaviors of hazing and bullying.

The levels of punishment encompassed by the code of conduct often require, regardless of the specific incident, that different levels of administration come together to formulate an appropriate response and launch an investigation.

As part of that investigation, the administration attempts to gather as much information as possible regarding the situation, including those involved, the timeline of events, and whether or not the incident was isolated. “There will be a school component to [an investigation], and an athletic component to it. Everyone will have to work together to determine the outcome,” dean Amy Tucker explained. According to Ness, the main priority is always the safety of the students.

“There can’t be a delay in terms of when you hear reports of it or someone comes forward with a complaint, because it takes a lot of courage to do that. Their dignity and their rights [are] the number one priority — for them to be safe,” Ness said. “You want to make sure you learn from multiple pieces, from multiple lenses. So it’s very thorough. It’s methodical. People want things to be wrapped up in a nice bow at the end of the day, but it takes time.”

The school has been making a more concentrated effort to address the issues of bullying and hazing recently, including hosting a series of presentations for students, coaches, and parents on Sept. 12. Griffin also hosted assemblies for in-season student athletes on Tues., Sept. 26 and Wed., Sept. 27 after students became aware of investigation at Niles North.

“A lot of things that we try to do are through our individual programs. I try to have conversations. We talk to our coaches, we have a parent orientation (CAP meeting). We’ve done one with coaches this year, where we had a two day coaches’ meeting,” Griffin said. “We did the Katie Koestner [presentations], so that’s something that we did both at the adult level and with the kids.”

Coaches and extracurricular sponsors attended a mandatory informational session hosted by Koestner’s organization on Sept. 11, which was intended to provide strategies for preventing and recognizing signs of harassment.

“We talk about doing things the right way. Basically, we just kind of tell our kids: if you’ve got to think about whether something is right or wrong, it’s probably wrong,” Niles West varsity football coach Jesse Pierce said. “We’re just having those same discussions and treating each other with respect, taking care of each other and trying to forge deeper relationships and making sure that there’s no room for bullying and hazing.”

Contributing reporter: Sammy Butera.