Originally Published: May 30, 2018 6 a.m.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series about hazing and the policies local high schools have in place to deal with such incidents.
PRESCOTT — If you’re a parent and your teenager is enrolled at Prescott, Bradshaw Mountain or Chino Valley high school, student-on-student hazing should be on your radar.
In late April, the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office chose not to file criminal charges against two Mingus Union High School student-athletes in Cottonwood over a sexually related hazing on a team bus.
However, the Mingus Union School District Board suspended the two student-athletes 180 days for their participation in the March incident.
As a result of the district’s zero-tolerance policy, the 18-year-olds were barred from Mingus Union and the school’s online academy program. They also were not allowed to set foot on district property or to attend school events – such as games, prom and graduation – regardless of whether the events were held on or off campus.
According to Mingus Union Superintendent Penny Hargrove, since the sexual hazing incident, additional safety protocols have been put in place by the district to make sure such indecent behavior on bus trips does not happen again.
Those protocols include a requirement that adults be “distributed in the front, the back and the middle of the bus for better eye-to-eye contact of the kids,” Hargrove said.
She confirmed that there were five adults on the bus during the incident, including the bus driver.
Hargrove also said though students can listen to music on the bus, they must now use earphones.
“If an adult can hear it, the music must be turned down or turned off,” she added.
The Mingus Union incident was one of several recent cases of hazing at high schools in Arizona.
But how might such an incident be handled at local public high schools? In the end, it seems, the culture a school promotes may ultimately determine student behavior.
What follows is a synopsis for the policies/procedures, prevention methods and punishments the three local high schools implemented at the start of the 2017-18 academic year to combat hazing, including on buses.
Policies/procedures: Prescott has a Discipline Matrix in the Student Behavior section of its 2017-18 Parent & Student Handbook that parents and students must sign.
Among the violations listed as major infractions are: hazing, indecent exposure or public sexual indecency, aggravated sexual harassment (with or without physical contact), aggravated assault, use of dangerous weapons, disorderly conduct and bullying.
Prescott administrators require mutual respect among staff and students. The handbook bars “any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
Prescott baseball coach Kent Winslow, who’s approaching 40 years in his profession, said he hasn’t seen a hazing incident like the one at Mingus during his tenure here.
“From the start of the season, we tell them what’s appropriate and inappropriate, and we hope that the kids make the right choices,” Winslow added. “Kids are kids, so there will be things that have happened. But, for the most part, the athletes at Prescott are pretty good about it.”
Badgers junior infielder and pitcher Jake Schulz said Prescott baseball players focus on maintaining their competitive edge in the weight room, classroom and baseball field – occasionally razzing, but not hazing each other.
“I can truthfully say, 110 percent, we’ve done nothing like that,” Schulz said. “There was some pretty vulgar stuff at Mingus, and I’ve never experienced anything like that with Prescott baseball or traveling teams, or anything like that.”
Prevention: Each year, the athletic department sponsors five workshops with the Positive Coaching Alliance, “where we discuss hazing with coaches and athletes, among other positive culture building,” Prescott athletic director Missy Townsend said.
The school’s Silent Witness Program (See It, Stop It) and the Badger Tip Line allow “students to provide information about a crime, school safety issue, or violations of school rules and remain anonymous.”
“Cash awards will be made if the information is verified and leads to an arrest or school disciplinary action,” the policy adds. “Students, parents, and guardians are encouraged to contact any staff member and give them the information.
“The information will be given to the Administration or follow the directions on a ‘See It Stop It’ poster. Silent Witness information boxes are located in the library, attendance office and the school nurse’s office.”
The Badger Tip Line, an online and text-messaging reporting system, allows students to “text reports of concern to alert administration and security of potential issues involving drugs, theft, depression, bullying, violence, etc. The reporting system can also be accessed from the students’ PUSD Chrome logins.”
Students send texts to “37607” and type “PHSTIP” and their information of concern to the Badger Tip Line. A local crisis hotline (928-445-5211) and Teen Lifeline AZ (1-800-248-8336) are also available.
Townsend said Prescott High administrators received 17 reported incidents of harassment/bullying during the 2017-18 school year. Of those incidents, nine students were suspended, seven were issued warnings and one was put in detention. Police were called to handle two of those incidents after administrators concluded their initial investigations.
Bus/music policy: “Bus transportation is a privilege, not a right,” the handbook says. Student IDs are required for students to board school buses.
“A student shall abide by all school rules regulating the students while in a school bus or other school vehicle, and shall obey the directive of school bus drivers,” the handbook adds. “Bus-riding privileges may be revoked for violations. Students can be disciplined by both the school and the transportation department.”
“We’ve had some incidents where kids have made some bad choices on buses, and we’ve had to deal with them,” Winslow said. “Unless you’re sitting right next to them, you kind of have to trust them.”
Students may have iPods, MP3 players and/or cellphones, as long as those devices “do not disrupt the educational program or school activity” and school administrators allow their usage in accordance with school guidelines, the handbook says.
“Our policy is that all coaches are spread out on the bus to supervise,” Townsend said. “We also do not allow boys and girls to mix on a bus; they must be separated by adult coaches. This is a district transportation policy. We have never allowed anything that is considered a distraction by a driver to occur, including playing music on a speaker.”
Schulz said on bus trips every player wears headphones.
“If it’s a win, it will be a little more cheerful and happy, and we’ll be talking,” he added. “But if we lose, it’s kind of like dead silent in the bus. You can hear a pin drop sometimes.”
Punishment: Violators may be referred to the school district’s governing board, which could impose long-term suspensions or expulsions. District administrators say they also may notify city police to investigate violations.