Friday, November 22, 2019
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Hazing allegations surface at an Ohio band camp

The football season started regularly yesterday for a high school near Cleveland, but the band was performing under an interim director and two substitute teachers. They’re filling in for the school’s two band directors, who have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a hazing investigation, WOIO-TV (CBS affiliate) reports.

Streetsboro Ohio high school drone flyover
Streetsboro High School in a drone flyover (school website)

Scott Curfman, a former band director at Kent State University, stepped in as interim director in order to get the band from Streetsboro High School, located in rural Portage County about 40 minutes southeast of Cleveland, on the field. The team and band traveled to nearby Ravenna for a game last night at Southeast High School. The Rockets from Streetsboro won the game, 42-20.

After band camp this summer, students and parents made hazing allegations against other students under the supervision of the band’s directors. Underclassmen charged seniors with pushing them into a lake near the band camp site during the night. Other band members said they were tied to trees with plastic wrap.

“We actually have enough information to indicate that some of these behaviors did occur,” the Akron Beacon-Journal quoted Superintendent R Michael Daulbaugh as saying. “We have very strict board policy against bullying and harassment and intimidation of any sort, so we took it very seriously and launched an investigation.”

Parents expressed disbelief, vouching for the positive feelings the two teachers have given their sons and daughters. “No student was physically or mentally harmed,” one parent told the board after allegations surfaced, so, at least in several parents’ opinions, the charges are overblown.

But WOIO did a little investigative reporting and looked into the past of the two directors who have been suspended.

Employment records show, the station says, that Gretchen Weaver, the band’s director:

  • Was warned about her failure to maintain a “safe learning environment”
  • Was reprimanded for giving the middle finger in front of parents
  • Allowed students to use profanities and sexually suggestive gestures

The station also reports that the assistant band director, Shane Ellsworth, received a verbal warning for refusing to work with a fellow district employee and, earlier this year, allowed students to face verbal abuse in her classroom, according to a complaint filed by a parent.

Parents were happy that the band was back in action at the game. “I think it’s great they’re back on the field,” the station quoted one band parent as saying. “It’s wonderful, they’re a family, we all stick together, they’re happy they get to march,” said another.

I’m happy they get to march, too, since bands will do what they do, which is march. But their behavior or performance level on the field is completely beside the point here; their actions off the field, as alleged, are inappropriate in any school-sponsored setting.

It just isn’t right that freshmen have no choice: they have to attend the band camp, since a teacher told them to be there, but their attendance will subject them to verbal or physical abuse. How much Ms Weaver and Ms Ellsworth knew about the hazing will be the subject of the investigation, and disciplinary action might follow for students as well.

No one died or was physically hurt, both sources reported, and I’m completely willing to accept that statement as fact. But as the case at Florida A&M University showed us, hazing where nobody dies can quickly escalate to hazing where somebody dies, given that kids will be kids. For example, can you speculate what would have happened if one of the kids who got pushed into the lake couldn’t swim?

In retaliation also, hazing victims who become angry and whose adrenaline levels spike in response to that anger, might lash out against the bullies in a violent way, injuring them.

The behavior and the culture allowing it have to be nipped in the bud before anybody gets hurt. Schools can’t allow kids to be at a school-sponsored activity that permits abuse of one student by another. It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen, although launching an investigation goes a long way toward showing that the district hasn’t been “deliberately indifferent” to the hazing.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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