IN DEPTH: Local school districts ready for anti-hazing law

By Shawn Hardy

Hazing, the potentially harmful initiation into a group, is outlawed on college campuses across the country. In Pennsylvania, it is a third-degree misdemeanor.

Now younger students will be protected from the practice by Pennsylvania law and local school districts are ahead of the curve with hazing policies already in place.

The legislation

Anti-hazing legislation for public and private schools serving grades seven to 12 passed both the Pennsylvania House and Senate within the last two weeks and is headed to the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf, who plans to sign it.

Each school would be required to post a copy of the anti-hazing policy online and provide a copy to all athletic coaches.

Penalties could include fines, withholding of diplomas or transcripts, probation, suspension, dismissal or expulsion, according to an Associated Press article. An organization that authorizes hazing could lose access to school property or the ability to operate under the school’s sanction.

“Hazing is another form of bullying, which must be stopped,” said state Rep. Ron Marsico, a Republican who represents Dauphin County and sponsor of HB 1574. “Traditional bullying involves singling out one individual at any time and bullying him or her as a means to exclude the person. Hazing involves bullying someone to make him or her earn his or her way into a group or onto a team.” 

On his website, Marsico cites allegations about Central Bucks West High School in Bucks County where football players engaged in pre-season hazing at the school that included a requirement that rookies grab another player’s genitals while fully clothed. Another hazing incident allegedly involved placing towels over players’ heads and leading them into the shower. Additionally, in New Jersey recently, multiple football team members at Sayreville War Memorial High School were charged with sexual assaults on younger players that took place as part of an initiation rite.

State Sen. Richard Alloway II, a Republican who represents Franklin County, voted in favor of the measure, according to Chad Reichard, his legislative director.

“It’s time the younger students have the same protection passed for colleges,” Reichard said.

In the House, the bill was supported by state Rep. Paul Schemel, a Republican who represents Franklin County. Schemel said hazing certainly occurs in certain situations and can foster an elitist-type atmosphere.

In the schools

The Waynesboro Area and Greencastle-Antrim school districts already anti-hazing policies and they are very similar because both districts use policies written by the legal team at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Administrators will review the legislation to make sure their districts are posting the policies everywhere the law requires.

“I’ve not encountered any hazing since I’ve been superintendent and I’m ending my fourth year,” said Dr. Sherian Diller, Waynesboro superintendent.

“We’ve had no hazing incidents reported in the last couple of years and I don’t ever remember any and I’ve been here a long time,” said Dr. C. Gregory Hoover, the G-A superintendent, who has been involved with the district as a coach, teacher and administrator for nearly 40 years.

The hazing posted on each district’s website reads: “The purpose of this policy is to maintain a safe, positive environment for students and staff that is free from hazing. Hazing activities of any type are inconsistent with the educational goals of the district and are prohibited at all times.”

The policies define hazing, outline steps for complaints and make its prevention the responsibility of everyone in the district: “Students, administrators, coaches, sponsors, volunteers and district employees  shall be alert to incidents of hazing and shall report such conduct to the building principal.”