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updated: 11/30/2012 7:36 PM

Dist. 207 issues statement on hazing scandal

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Maine Township High School District 207 officials are trying to reassure parents, students and the community that the administration is being responsive as more details emerge in a growing hazing scandal at Maine West High School.

The accusations have led to six juveniles being charged with battery and hazing, and a lawsuit has been filed against District 207, Maine West, its administrators, coaches and staff by the families of four victims.

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All four victims -- one freshman baseball player and three freshman soccer players -- claim they were sexually assaulted as part of the hazing.

Documents obtained from Des Plaines police outline reports of repeated hazing of freshman members of the varsity boys soccer team. The police report of the two Sept. 26 attacks describes a pattern of abuse that was part of an initiation. Freshman boys were routinely roughed up by members of the varsity team, pinned down, beaten and violated, the report states.

In some cases, head soccer coach Michael Divincenzo is alleged to have witnessed and sanctioned the hazing, according to the documents.

The district's own investigation has led officials to develop a new policy on hazing.

The district is now requiring all students and coaches to sign an anti-hazing pledge issued by the Illinois High School Association as a part of their participation in sports, clubs, or activities, according to a statement released Friday night.

The district also will be convening focus groups with administrators, staff, students and parents in each building to study policy, practice, climate, and culture as it relates to bullying and hazing. The groups will make recommendations for further action.

District 207 also plans to begin additional annual staff training to ensure that employees are aware of mandated reporting duties. The district will be using the "Positive Coaching Alliance" in each of its three high schools to educate students, parents, and staff about the importance of positive coaching techniques.

Officials also are launching a hotline for students to be able to report and find adult help on issues, including bullying and hazing.

The school board will be hiring an independent investigator to scrutinize the policies, procedures, training and follow-up of these changes and to make recommendations to the board, according to the statement released Friday.

Multiagency investigations are ongoing on the hazing allegations, including by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

In its statement, District 207 reiterated that the faculty members against whom allegations have been made were immediately placed on administrative leave and relieved of all school-related responsibilities during the investigations.

"Following the results of these investigations, including our own internal review of the situation, the school district will not hesitate to take disciplinary action, including dismissal, as warranted by the findings," the statement reads.

"We are absolutely committed to eliminating the practices and traditions that might lead to such hazing incidents," school board President Sean Sullivan said in the statement. "We already have multiple programs in place throughout each building to address bullying and hazing, including long-standing, peer-led character development programs, the centerpiece of which is teaching respect and responsibility."

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