In response to a hazing incident that has coaches and students from Ooltewah High School charged with felony offenses for a crime involving their basketball team, the Warren County Board of Education is looking to put a hazing policy into place for the coming school year.
“We want to avoid something like happened elsewhere last year,” said School Board member Bill Zechman before the Board of Education approved the new policy on first reading.
The incident he referred to happened in Gatlinburg on Dec. 22, 2015 when three members of the Ooltewah basketball team allegedly attacked another team member at a cabin where they were staying. The freshman allegedly had a foreign object pushed inside him, causing serious internal injuries.
The boy was hospitalized for treatment but no official report of the incident was made. The lack of reporting resulted in charges against adults who were in supervisory roles during the team trip. There were also charges against the students. The cases are all awaiting trial.
“This provides for accountability for coaches and sponsors,” said School Board attorney Robin Phillips, noting the reporting procedure for adults when they become aware of student hazing is made clear in the proposed policy. Phillips went on to say those participating in hazing and adults who fail to report such cases could also “be subject to criminal action.”
The policy spells out what is considered hazing, pointing out there can be many types of hazing.
“Any type of physical brutality such as whipping, beating, striking, branding, shocking or placing a harmful substance on the body,” the policy reads. “Any type of physical activity such as sleep deprivation, exposure to weather, confinement in a restricted area, calisthenics or other activity that subjects the student to an unreasonable risk of harm or that adversely affects the mental or physical health or safety of the student.”
The policy, Phillips notes, applies to hazing that happens on and off school property and it does not matter if the victim of the hazing is a willing participant.
As a component of the policy, the school district will be required to investigate any report of hazing and report to the student’s parent or guardian. There is also a provision allowing anonymous reporting of hazing activity. The hazing prohibition is meant to protect both students and staff members from hazing.
The Board of Education will look to finalize the policy on second reading during its next regular meeting later this month.