After disturbing reports of hazing by members of a high school football team, Pennsylvania lawmakers are pushing to expand the state’s anti-hazing law down to the secondary level. Earlier this month, three Conestoga (Pa.) High School football players were charged with assault, unlawful restraint, making terroristic threats, and related offenses after allegedly penetrating a freshman teammate’s rectum with a broom handle. However, the trio avoided being charged with hazing due to a loophole in Pennsylvania’s hazing law, which has spurred one state lawmaker into action.
State Senator Andy Dinniman, the minority chair of the state’s Senate Education Committee, wrote last week to Senator Lloyd Smucker, the committee’s majority chair, urging him to call a vote on anti-hazing legislation that passed through the House in November.
“While the Conestoga High School situation was criminal in action, broadening anti-hazing statues would be a preventive measure that could go a long way to deter hazing from reaching the serious criminal level it did at Conestoga,” Dinniman wrote in his March 9 letter to Smucker. “It would be an excellent idea if you would, as Majority Chairman, bring HB 1574 before the Committee for a vote, so that it can go to the full Senate for consideration.”
Under current Pennsylvania law, hazing statutes apply only to students at higher education institutions, not high schools. HB 1574, which passed through the state House by a 197-3 margin in November, seeks to expand the law to cover students from grades 7 through 12 as well. If the bill becomes law, schools would be required to adopt a written anti-hazing policy and create an enforcement program for students who break such rules. Under current law, hazing is a third-degree misdemeanor, punishable by fines, withholding of diplomas, or suspension.
“By expanding the law to cover high school students and athletes, my hope is we may help prevent and deter similar situations in the future,” Dinniman said in a statement on his website. “This behavior is wrong and cannot be tolerated. Young adults need to know that it is dangerous and will result in real consequences.”
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan called the current anti-hazing law’s exclusion of secondary school students a “glaring omission,” according to Michaelle Bond of Philly.com. Pennsylvania is one of 44 states with anti-hazing laws on the books, Bond reported.
Dinniman also plans on presenting an amendment to the House bill, requiring schools to provide coaches with “a written copy of their anti-hazing policy, their program of enforcement, and the penalties for violations of such rules,” he wrote in his letter to Smucker. “In addition, schools will be required to provide coaches with information regarding the dangers of hazing,” he added.
Dinniman told Adam Farence of the Daily Local News that Smucker “agreed” with him about bringing the bill up for a vote. He expects the bill to be voted upon within a few weeks, adding it has a good chance of passing.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.