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November 11th, 2014

Bucks County High School Shuts Down Football Season Due to Hazing – Fair?

Philadelphia, PA Area High School Hazing Allegations Lead to
Cancellation of Football Season

On the heels of a nationally covered hazing incident in New Jersey which has led to major repercussions including criminal charges, a local Philadelphia area school has joined the conversation.

A high school in the Central Bucks school district recently cancelled its fall football season and suspended several coaches, citing allegations of hazing. The school is located in Bucks County, about 1 hour north of Philadelphia.

The allegations alleged in the New Jersey and now Pennsylvania high school hazing incidents aren’t seemingly innocent acts of hazing, like sticking a kid in a trash can or locking a kid in a bathroom. They involve alleged acts of sexual abuse and assault.

The allegations at the New Jersey high school, if true, would probably result in a criminal conviction for sexual assault. It’s alleged that younger male students were penetrated with fingers of older students. The allegations at the Pennsylvania high school pale in comparison, but still involve grabbing genitals. The local police and District Attorney’s office are investigating.

Parents at the school have rallied against school administrators for cancelling the football season, essentially punishing players who were not involved in the alleged hazing incidents. At a meeting subsequent to the cancellation, parents expressed outrage at the unfairness and perceived rush to judgment.

On the one hand, parents of players on the team who had nothing to do with the hazing are justified in feeling that their children are being unjustly punished for the acts of others. On the other hand, school administrators wanted to send a clear message about hazing. The school administration’s response of shutting the entire season down will probably be effective in preventing subsequent acts of hazing among sports players as well as the entire student body. The response will probably serve its purpose, at least for a few years, until the new generation of students in the school district forget entirely about the incident.

Then there is the question of liability. Is a school in Pennsylvania liable for failing to stop or prevent hazing? Like with all negligence lawsuit questions, the answer depends on the facts, specifically who knew what and when. As a general rule, schools can be held liable for hazing where there is evidence that a school employee condoned the acts, either by participating in the hazing acts or otherwise knowingly facilitating hazing. For instance, as part of an annual tradition to “welcome” new players, a sports coach or assistant coach at a high school locks the players in the locker room, knowing full well that older players will haze the younger players.

School hazing serves no purpose and has no place in education settings, whether it’s a high school or a college. Sometimes, students need to experience a harsh result in order to get the message. The Central Bucks school administrators who decided to shut down the season made the right call.

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