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Needham High parents want to address school committee about hazing controversy

Posted by Your Town  November 16, 2010 09:03 PM

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A parent of a sophomore on the Needham High girls’ soccer team tonight asked to address the town's school committee about the hazing controversy that led to the suspension of several girls earlier this month.

Mary Ellen Dunn, a parent of a girl on the team that was allegedly involved in hazing incidents last month, said she was speaking on behalf of the team when she addressed the committee during the public comment period of the meeting tonight. She said the group would like to make a presentation when the school committee meets again on Dec. 7.

Dunn, echoing other parents' comments on the matter over the last several days, said the hazing occurred on Oct. 29 outside of school and was resolved among the girls involved before the next school day.

The decision by the school administration to suspend senior girls involved was “a misjudgement,” she said.

“There was no intention to harm, nor was any harm perceived by our children,” said Dunn. “The school has come to a hasty, erroneous interpretation of the event.”

Dunn said the parents have unsuccessfully tried to give the administration information about the incident, and they would like to present an account of what happened to the committee at their next meeting.

In an interview after the public comments, Dunn said the administration has jumped to conclusions without knowing all the facts of the incident.

Another parent, Todd White, said the parents have been meeting since the incident occurred, and they all disagree with the way the administration has handled the situation, even the parents of underclassmen. White said his daughter, who is an underclassman, never received a copy of the anti-hazing policy from her coach.

“If our children were aggrieved, we wouldn’t be all taking this position,” he said.

Another Needham resident, J.P. Pages, spoke during the comment period about the incident. He said the school suspended the girls under a statue forbidding hazing, but the same statue requires the school to give copies of the hazing policy to all coaches. The coaches, in turn, are supposed to relay the policy to each athlete, he said.

Pages said his two children who have attended Needham High never received the policy, and he has spoken with other parents who have said their children never received it, either.

“It seems to me an adult in charge of educating children can not hold them liable or responsible for conduct under law that they themselves violate,” he said. “[The administration] are the ones that failed students.”

Connie Barr, chair of the school committee, said that the committee does not respond to public comments, but the administration has made an effort to handle the situation in a way that is best for everyone involved.

Barr did not give any details of the hazing, and Superintendent Dan Gutenkanst did not mention the incident in his comments.

The Globe reported last week that two other parents said 10 girls on the team were suspended from school and 12 or 13 were prevented from playing in a district tournament game against Brockton.

Three parents, providing new details in separate interviews, said the seniors drove the girls around for a short time until they arrived at a field off school grounds where the team practices. They said the girls were told to remove their blindfolds on the field and were taunted. At least one was told to wear a dog collar and two were hit in the face with whipped cream pies. Others were made to sing songs or sing the praises of the seniors.

But each of the parents interviewed insisted that the episode was all in fun, a team-building exercise that might have gone too far but didn’t leave any of their girls harmed.

Late last week, Needham High School's principal said the students' actions "were not in keeping with the school's core values, mission, or code of conduct.''

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