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updated: 6/14/2013 2:42 PM

Dist. 207 anti-hazing consultant says staff 'overwhelmed'

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  • The consultant that led anti-hazing focus groups at the three Maine Township High School District 207 high schools recommends more student involvement and staff training on bullying intervention. The recommendations come on the heels of the district firing two soccer coaches following a hazing scandal at Maine West High School in Des Plaines last fall.

      The consultant that led anti-hazing focus groups at the three Maine Township High School District 207 high schools recommends more student involvement and staff training on bullying intervention. The recommendations come on the heels of the district firing two soccer coaches following a hazing scandal at Maine West High School in Des Plaines last fall.
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The consultant hired by Maine Township High School District 207 to lead anti-hazing focus groups at its three high schools recommends the district take steps to include students in decision making and leadership activities, and provide more staff training on bullying intervention.

The 24-page Community Matters report recently released to the District 207 school board was the result of a "school climate audit" of all three district high schools. Focus groups with parents, students and staff were held at each of the schools in March, and people were given the opportunity to submit anonymous surveys.

The report highlights issues within the schools, including staff members saying they feel overwhelmed, having insufficient time to monitor students. It also stresses the need for education and training of students on the complexities and consequences of bullying behavior and how to safely respond to it. Parents also need to be given the resources, skills and tools to understand bullying and to better communicate with their children about the problem, the report reads.

The report says growing national trend of cyberbullying and electronic harassment through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter also is prevalent in District 207 schools.

In order to change the school culture and climate, District 207 needs to allocate more staff time and resources to "supporting the social-emotional learning of students," the report suggests.

The report recommended as immediate next steps the district create a school climate action committee to review the report and create a districtwide initiative on school climate.

These recommendations come on the heels of the district firing two boys soccer coaches after last fall's hazing scandal at Maine West High School.

Two 14-year-old freshmen on the varsity boys soccer team said they had been assaulted by seniors inside the Des Plaines school as part of a hazing ritual last September.

A lawsuit was later filed alleging instances of hazing of a freshman baseball player and three freshman soccer players dating back to 2007, naming as defendants Maine Township High School District 207, the Maine West principal and now fired soccer coaches Michael Divincenzo and Emilio Rodriguez.

Divincenzo, former Maine West head varsity soccer coach, has since been charged with misdemeanor hazing, battery and failure to report abuse based on events that were reported to have occurred between June 1 and Sept. 26 last year. Charges against six juveniles involved in the September hazing were dropped following a five-month investigation by the Cook County State's attorney's office.

District 207 spokesman Dave Beery said Thursday officials are reviewing the consultant's recommendations, along with the recommendations of an independent investigator hired to review the Maine West hazing allegations.

"The work that Community Matters did with our students, parents and staff represents just one of numerous actions District 207 has taken in recent months as part of our commitment to eliminating the practices and traditions that might lead to student hazing incidents," a district statement read. "In the coming weeks, District 207 will be looking for specific ways to act on Community Matters' several recommendations involving policy, procedure, professional development, family and community involvement and student engagement and empowerment."

Last month's report from the independent investigator, the law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, recommended policy changes, such as on the reporting of child abuse and neglect.

District 207's current policy requires each high school principal to designate someone at the school to receive reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. Under a proposed policy change, any district employee who suspects abuse or neglect would be required to report directly to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and then to notify building and district administration, Beery said.

Another proposed policy calls for "prohibiting retaliation against anyone who reports bullying, harassment, hazing, anything of that nature," Beery said.

"That language has been embedded in other policies, but the administration believes that it's so important to make that clear that it's been proposed as a stand-alone policy," Beery said.

A third policy change being considered, stemming from the law firm's report and the district's own internal investigation, is making sure personnel files in the district's central office contain all records on an employee kept in individual school personnel files.

"It's important that the district office be the central repository where all official personnel files are (kept)," Beery said.

The District 207 school board has begun discussions on revising, clarifying and strengthening district policies based on the conclusions and recommendations of Acosta's report. The board could act on the policy changes within the next two to three months, Beery said.

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