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DCFS asks prosecutors to investigate high school hazing

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 9:40 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — Amid reports of alleged hazing involving Maine West High School athletes, the state's child welfare agency has asked Cook County prosecutors to investigate whether any school employees failed in their duty to report possible child abuse or neglect.

The Department of Children and Family Services said allegations that district employees "knew of alleged abuse or neglect as early as 2007" have been referred to the state's attorney's office to see whether a violation of Illinois' Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act had occurred.

A recent lawsuit on behalf of four athletes from the Des Plaines school alleges that players on the boys soccer and baseball teams were physically and sexually assaulted by teammates in initiation rituals, the earliest occurring in 2007. The lawsuit claims that some coaches and school officials knew of the hazing but did nothing to stop it.

Des Plaines police have charged six players on this year's soccer team with misdemeanors stemming from the alleged hazing of three teammates. Two soccer coaches remain on paid leave and have been reassigned from their teaching duties while Maine Township High School District 207 investigates.

District officials said they immediately notified police and DCFS about the most recent allegations, but they acknowledged that some Maine West administrators knew about one case of alleged hazing on the baseball team in 2008.

Four students were disciplined at the time, but top district officials say they did not know about the incident until the mother of the alleged victim called Superintendent Ken Wallace last month.

At a District 207 school board meeting Monday evening, district officials reiterated a statement they released Friday, saying they acted "quickly and appropriately" when they learned of the claims and that they are "absolutely committed to eliminating the practices and traditions that might lead to such hazing incidents."

Meanwhile, officials at nearby Township High School District 211 were also dealing with hazing allegations.

The district suspended the Hoffman Estates High School boys varsity basketball team for three games, forcing them to forfeit, after administrators learned of an off-campus "initiation" to which some members of the team were subjected.

District 211 Superintendent Nancy Robb said in a statement Monday that the ritual involved "several players piling onto a targeted player and then grabbing, horseplay, slapping and hitting the targeted player in areas that included the buttocks and sometimes in the groin. The players were clothed at the time of each 'initiation' pile-on, and the contact occurred on top of the player's clothing."

Robb added that the school's investigation did not reveal any sexual misconduct among the players and that head coach Luke Yanule promptly reported the allegation when he learned of it Friday.

"Hazing or other initiations have never been tolerated, nor will it ever be tolerated in our basketball program or in any program at Hoffman Estates High School," Yanule said in a statement issued by the district. "Our team will own the disciplinary measures handed down with integrity as we look to move forward."

School officials notified DCFS about the allegations, Robb said, but the agency decided not to take action (a DCFS spokesman declined to comment about the case). Sgt. Darin Felgenhauer of the Hoffman Estates police said Monday an investigator is still looking into the incident and that no criminal charges have been filed.

Hazing violates student disciplinary codes in both districts, and their respective administrators said they will institute new measures to combat the practice.

District 207 officials said they will retrain staff, start a hotline to field complaints and require coaches and athletes to sign an anti-hazing pledge. District 211 administrators said they will conduct training with the basketball team and other sports and activities.

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