• Cullen and Dykman LLP Blogs

  • Archives

  • Three Local School Districts Cancel Football Seasons Due to Hazing Allegations

    Bullying is one of the fastest growing issues affecting schools across the country today. In the last month, three local high schools have taken a somewhat unprecedented approach in an effort to tackle problems of hazing in their locker rooms.

    First, on October 6, 2014, the Sayreville War Memorial High School’s football season was cancelled amid allegations of hazing and sexual abuse involving team members. “There were incidents of harassment, of intimidation and bullying that took place on a pervasive level, on a wide-scale level and at a level at which the players knew, tolerated and generally accepted” stated Richard Labbe, the Superintendent of Sayreville schools. The alleged incidents involved attacks on four freshman students throughout the course of a ten-day period in September. The upperclassmen on the team allegedly turned down the lights, restrained the freshmen students and digitally penetrated them. An investigation is also being conducted by the Sayreville Police Department and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office. Seven students face sex-crime charges resulting from the alleged hazing incidents.

    However, not everyone agrees with Superintendent Labbe’s decision to suspend the football season. Some parents believe that his decision serves to unjustly punish and victimize the players who were not involved in the alleged hazing of the freshmen players. Others believe that the coaches should be held responsible for allowing these incidents to occur on their watches.

    Nevertheless, when questioned about his bold decision to cancel the remainder of the football season, Superintendent Labbe stated, “We can set the standard right now for all kids, for all school districts in Middlesex County, in the state and in the nation that we are not going to stand around and allow kids to do this to one another. We are standing up together as a Board of Education and as a district in saying no to bullying in Sayreville. And we are inviting others to join us in our stance.”

    Less than a month later, two other school districts in neighboring states responded to Superintendent Labbe’s call for action. On October 23, 2014, Central Bucks School West in Doylestown, Pennsylvania unexpectedly cancelled the remainder of its football season and suspended all varsity and junior varsity coaches pending an investigation into what Schools Superintendent David Weitzel labeled “humiliating and inappropriate” initiation rites including “waterboarding-like behavior” and unwanted touching of genitals.

    Last week, a school in Eldred, New York also cancelled the rest of its football season after school officials were made aware of “widespread and pervasive hazing among members of the football team.” “The school district’s investigation revealed that over a three-week period, members of the football team engaged in such inappropriate hazing acts commonly referred to as ‘teabagging’ as well as sitting on each others faces, and pushing their face into the other students ‘junk’ while on school grounds” said Eldred Central School District Superintendent Robert M. Dufour.

    These recent cases demonstrate the longstanding problem of student bullying in the locker room. Schools must take action in order to comply with their obligations to keep students safe. We urge schools to review, and if necessary, revise their student codes of conduct and policies against bullying and hazing. Teachers, students and coaches alike must be trained on how to effectively prevent, recognize and investigate allegations of hazing in order to ensure student safety and also minimize exposure and liability.

    If you or your institution has any questions or concerns regarding education related issues, please contact Cynthia A. Augello at caugello@cullenanddykman.com or at (516) 357-3753.

    A special thank you to Hayley B. Dryer, an associate at Cullen and Dykman LLP, for her assistance with this blog post.