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September 30, 2014

Groton parents contact state on hazing

 

By SARAH VABER
Staff Reporter
sbullock@cortlandstandardnews.net

GROTON — Parents of some Groton varsity football players read aloud to the Board of Education at its meeting Monday a letter to the state Department of Education that complained about the treatment their sons received after what administrators have called a hazing incident.
The letter stated Superintendent of Schools Jim Abrams had still not responded to parents’ requests for information about the incident by Monday, according to the letter, which went on to say they wanted Abrams fired.
Administrators, police and the Tompkins County District Attorney are investigating what they have termed a hazing incident that occurred Sept. 10 in the boys’ locker room at the high school, but have not said what the incident was.
While no charges have yet been filed, charges are anticipated in the case, Lt. Tim Williams of the Groton Village Police Department said in an interview Monday.
District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson ruled out rumors on Thursday that a student was forced to perform a sex act on other athletes.
A report was made to school officials a day after the incident and on Sept. 12 the administration concluded it was a bullying or hazing incident and contacted police, Abrams said at the Sept. 15 Board of Education meeting.
Three students involved in the incident were disciplined on Sept. 12, Abrams said at that meeting. Abrams said he could not reveal what the punishment was, as it could identify the students, but added later that as part of the discipline the students were ineligible to play in the Sept. 19 football game.
After the three students were disciplined, administrators continued to look into whether any students were encouraging the incident, Abrams said. Abrams was not immediately available after Monday night’s meeting or by phone this morning for information on whether any students did encourage the incident or if they were disciplined.
Abrams informed police and news media about the incident without privately informing parents of the players on the football team first, according to the parents’ letter.
A robocall to all parents of students in kindergarten to 12th grade was also “unnecessary and detrimental” to football players who were not involved in the incident, according to the letter read aloud by Mike Lockwood, a parent of a player. Lockwood said after the meeting that he was not aware of the letter until he was asked to read it Monday night.
“Our children were being treated as criminals,” the letter stated, adding that students had to prove their innocence and were “emotionally and mentally harmed.”
Abrams presented a plan to the school board Monday night on how to improve the culture in the Groton district, have adults quickly recognize and respond to bullying, and to help students stand up for others.
The district plans to bring in experts from Tompkins Cortland Community College or Cornell University by Oct. 15 to teach sports team members to speak up against bad behavior, Abrams told the board.
An outside consultant will also be brought in to investigate the breadth of the issue, Abrams said.
Abrams was not more specific at the meeting about the investigation and was not immediately available for clarification.
The consultant would also look into whether district staff were compliant with state law that requires them to report incidents of discrimination and harassment, Abrams said.
The district’s athletic code will also be reviewed and coaches will be refreshed on supervision practices at the beginning of every season, he said.
A student advisory committee, as well as a parent advisory committee, will be convened to discuss issues with the district’s culture and how to combat them, Abrams said.
After the meeting, Lockwood said he noticed Abrams’ plan did not include a way to improve communication with the community in the case of a similar incident.
When the Sept. 12 football game was canceled, the administration should have scheduled a mandatory assembly of the team and parents to discuss the incident during the time slated for the game, he said.
The district should also quell the heinous rumors circulating about the incident, Lockwood said.
“I think the school has to support the kids and they have to do that by saying the rumors aren’t true,” Lockwood said.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Lockwood called on the school administration to publicly admit they mishandled the incident and apologize.

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