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updated: 4/29/2013 7:48 AM

Editorial: Anti-hazing legislation a good start

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By The Daily Herald

Driven by the appalling allegations of hazing at his hometown high school, freshman state Rep. Marty Moylan has gotten an anti-hazing bill through the House that provides for misdemeanor charges against any school employee who is aware a hazing incident has taken place but not reported it to authorities.

For school employees, the measure must look all but draconian. Teachers and administrators already routinely look after their students for more than just their academic progress -- they look for signs of depression, for changes in their demeanor, anything that indicates a student might be troubled.

Still, we support this proposed legislation. For whatever reason, there are a few in the education fraternity who don't get it, and this bill is aimed at them.

Among the allegations at Maine West High School in Des Plaines are that two young athletes were sodomized by several teammates in the name of initiation. Two coaches have been fired.

And while the legislation should also insist on having credible witnesses to support a charge against an educator, what Moylan's bill says is that nobody gets away with looking the other way to avoid snitching on a colleague.

Could this result in educators overzealously reporting mere horseplay as hazing? Maybe, but even if so, that will settle out. After all, if the first event had been reported in timely fashion, maybe the other events could have been prevented.

Adults have to take the lead here. Kids won't. In a 2000 study conducted by Alfred University in New York, only 14 percent of teens said they were hazed, yet 48 percent said they participated in hazing.

Kids interviewed routinely referred to hazing as "no big deal," "fun," "tradition" or "our way of bonding as a group."

"Good kids can make bad mistakes," writes Rebecca Mooney, executive director of a New York-based anti-violence group. "Remember that kids will do things in groups that they would never do alone. Don't underestimate the power of a peer group."

Laws are designed to serve the public interest and this one's time has come. It isn't a solution in search of a problem -- we know what the problem is, and it's very real.

National hazing expert and former visiting professor Hank Nuwer says what's missing in the hazing debate are harsher penalties. "We've had a (hazing) death every year from 1970 to 2013" in the United States, he is quoted as saying. Some years there are six or more deaths in a year.

Harsher penalties, he said, is what got people finally paying attention to date rape. What happened at Maine West should never happen again at a suburban high school.

And while students who commit the crimes must be held responsible, it's the adults who have to lead on this. While it might get changed before ultimately being passed, Moylan's bill is a good start.

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