After Maine scandal, Dist. 219 updates hazing policy
Former Maine West soccer coach Michael Divincenzo
Updated: May 6, 2013 2:10AM
Niles Township High School District 219 is polishing its response protocol for student misconduct in light of a neighboring district’s struggle with a hazing scandal.
Existing policies at District 219 regarding prohibited student harassment were recently amended to include references to hazing. Additionally, district employees are being held responsible for reporting such incidents under a new administrative reporting procedure.
District 219 spokesman Jim Szczepaniak said an attorney for the district suggested the policy review and update after receiving a school law bulletin on the matter.
“Fortunately, we have not had anything that falls in the (hazing) category in recent memory,” he said.
Keith Robinson, assistant principal of operations at Niles North High School, said he also was not aware of any incidents of hazing during his last eight years with District 219.
He said the policy revisions put onto paper existing procedures for handling misconduct.
District employees who have suspicion or knowledge of hazing are expected to immediately make a report with a complaint manager. Notification of the alleged incident then triggers an investigation by the school district. Robinson said a “fair and just consequence” is issued based on the investigation’s findings.
“We look for any type of remediation and intervention, and some sort of educational component, as part of the consequence,” he said.
Under state law, hazing is classified as a Class A misdemeanor. In the event that hazing results in death or great bodily harm, charges get bumped up to a Class 4 felony.
According to legislation passed by Illinois General Assembly in January, hazing occurs when a person knowingly requires another individual to engage in an unsanctioned or unauthorized act that results in bodily harm for the purposes of induction into a school-related group.
District 219 students agree to adhere to the district’s code of conduct when they choose to participate in extracurricular group activities, including sports, Robinson said.
“It is specially mentioned and brought to the kids’ attention,” he said.
The district lists hazing alongside name-calling, stalking, and threatening or causing harm as prohibited conduct, among other activities. Bullying on the basis of appearance was also recently added into district policy.
Robinson said expectations for behavior are laid out for students their freshman year when the Anti-Defamation League hosts a presentation on bullying for the incoming class.
Hazing is sometimes covered, he said, though it’s at the discretion of the presenters.
“There is some discussion about hazing (at the schools) but it’s not targeted in that program,” Robinson said.
Combatting hazing may involve more than educating students about intolerable behavior however.
Robinson said teens must be able to trust and feel comfortable speaking with adults who are in positions to help, including teachers, coaches and administrators.
“If students didn’t think we’d respond, they wouldn’t tell us,” Robinson said. “We have to make ourselves available.”
Hazing has been of local concern since a suit was filed in November against Maine Township High School District 207, claiming students were sexually assaulted during hazing rituals.
The scandal erupted after multiple soccer players told Des Plaines police they were hazed in September by teammates who tackled them and sodomized them with fingers and sticks.
Six teens were charged with misdemeanor battery and hazing. The District 207 school board fired varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo and freshman coach Emilio Rodriguez for failing to act when notified of the incidents.
Both coaches have said they didn’t know about the hazing, according to Des Plaines police reports, though police had been told Divincenzo witnessed an assault in July, congratulated the victim and welcomed him to the team.
The allegations have prompted criminal investigations by Illinois’ child welfare agency and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.