USC addresses bullying and hazing

Published Sep 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm (Updated Sep 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm)

Upper St. Clair parents voiced their concerns about bullying and hazing at the Sept. 23 board meeting and were told by the superintendent that the school district is reviewing its policies and procedures regarding those issues.

The president of the school board also said members look forward to hearing what will be done in the future to ensure that these instances are not tolerated.

Patrick O’Toole, superintendent, said the district has programming for anti-bullying and anti-hazing and that it is delivered at every grade level; kindergarten through 12th grade.

“A lot of (the hazing) happened in mid-summer when we are not even in session,” he noted.

Entering high school is “a tough transition for kids anyway,” O’Toole added. “With social media, we have a whole different dimension of bullying.

“The board members here are very concerned about it,” O’Toole continued. “They are expecting administrators to take action. It is very much a community issue as well as a school issue.”

Barbara Bolas, school board president, said “This board has been kept up to date.” She said they have talked at length about how every student deserves respect.

Billie Williams of Quigg Drive told the board that her freshman son was the victim of hazing by a senior.

“Help us put a premium on student safety, respect and dignity,” she asked the school board.

“Parents, please work diligently each day to inspire these traits in your child. Teach your child that hazing is not about harmless traditions or silly antics,” Williams continued. “Hazing is about abuse of power and a violation of human rights. Hazing is a form of abuse and victimization.”

According to Williams, the nature of hazing has become more dangerous and destructive. “They’re getting more brutal, as seen here in Upper St. Clair. The psychological harm from hazing can follow into students’ relationships, marriages, parenting and workplace,” she said.

While Williams noted that high school principal, Dr. Michael Ghilani, has been supportive through this entire ordeal, she said, “parents do not feel that enough has been done.”

After the meeting, O’Toole said that “we need to empower all children to be reporters (of hazing and bullying).”

“It’s a difficult issue to address,” he said.

The school district’s website defines hazing as any activity that recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental health, physical health, or safety of a student for the purpose of initiation or membership in or affiliation with any school organization.”

It also states that the school does not condone any form of initiation or harassment, known as hazing, as part of any school sponsored student activity. “No student, coach, sponsor, volunteer or district employee shall plan, direct, encourage, assist, condone, tolerate or engage in any hazing activity.”

The procedure described on the district’s web page says that the administration will investigate all complaints of hazing and will administer appropriate discipline when violations occur. The consequences include an out-of-order, detention and/or suspension, possible recommendation for expulsion, and/or possible criminal prosecution.”

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