Recent hazing scandals at Maine West and Hoffman Estates high schools have prompted one state official to call for a tougher penalty for school officials and employees who fail to report hazing.
State Rep. Marty Molyan's plan was approved 15-0 by a House committee Wednesday, sending the proposal to the full House for further debate.
The Des Plaines Democrat's plan says school officials who know of hazing and don't report it to authorities can themselves be charged with misdemeanor hazing.
School districts already are mandated to report suspected cases of child abuse to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. But after the high-profile hazing locally he wanted to push something he thought might deter hazing in the future.
"There were laws in place and this happened," Moylan said. "This puts teeth in the law."
Allegations surfaced last fall that senior members of the Maine West High School varsity boys soccer team hazed freshman teammates. In Hoffman Estates, members of the boys' varsity basketball team were accused of hazing fellow students off campus in late November.
At Maine West, two 14-year-old freshman soccer players claim they were sexually assaulted inside the school on Sept. 26 as part of a hazing ritual, according to police. Five juveniles were charged with misdemeanor battery, and a sixth juvenile was charged after police uncovered evidence of another attack at a summer soccer camp.
The Cook County state's attorney's office is reviewing the charges and has issued subpoenas to Maine Township High School District 207 for documents.
Meanwhile, four current and former students are suing district officials, claiming the practice of hazing has been going on as far back as 2007.
"Obviously, there was a breakdown," Moylan said.
District 207 spokesman Dave Beery said officials welcome any constructive measures the state can implement to address the problem of hazing in schools.
"We are focused primarily on our own responsibilities and initiatives, further building on the policies and procedures we have had in place all along," Beery said.
District 207 has fired two Maine West soccer coaches -- head boys varsity coach Michael Divincenzo and freshman coach Emilio Rodriguez -- for not doing enough to stop the hazing. Both men have appealed the firings.
DCFS has validated several allegations of abuse and neglect against Divincenzo and Rodriguez and added their names to a state list of child abusers accessible to employers, which could result in their teaching licenses being revoked.
District 207 has hired an independent investigator to look into the allegations of hazing, scrutinize the district's policies, procedures and training, and provide follow-up recommendations to the school board.
An outside consultant will lead anti-hazing focus groups with students, parents and faculty members at the district's three high schools.
The firm also will study the policy, practice, climate and culture related to bullying and hazing and make recommendations to the school board.
Beery said all district teachers and administrators were required to attend a presentation in January detailing their role as mandatory reporters.
"Last week, we launched a web-based anonymous tip system with which students can report a wide variety of concerns, including bullying or hazing," Beery said. "We are preparing to conduct student, staff and parent focus groups next month on the social climate and culture of our schools.
"All of this comes after we began, with the winter sports season, requiring all of our athletes and coaches to sign anti-hazing pledges."
No criminal charges were filed in the Hoffman Estates case, and a DCFS investigation determined an initial allegation of sexual misconduct was unfounded. The school district required the team to forfeit three games as punishment.
A Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 spokesman declined Tuesday to comment on the legislation, saying officials have not had a chance to review it.
The legislation has support from a handful of other suburban Democrats, and it awaits a preliminary hearing before an Illinois House committee.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.