The Pennsylvania legislature approved a bill last week that expands the scope of the state’s original anti-hazing law to cover public and private schools with students between grades 7 and 12 as well as colleges and universities.
The bill, which passed through the Pennsylvania House by a 180-15 margin after receiving unanimous support in the Senate earlier this month, would require all secondary schools to adopt a written anti-hazing policy, distribute it to all coaches, and post it on their websites. Current state law mandates that only institutions of higher learning must have a written anti-hazing policy, but it does not require them to distribute it to coaches or display it publicly online.
The original law defines hazing in part as “any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student” and classifies it as a third-degree misdemeanor. Under the new bill, schools could punish students found guilty of hazing with fines, withholding of diplomas, suspension, or expulsion, among other penalties.
Expansion of the anti-hazing regulations comes in the wake of some high-profile incidents over the past few years, both in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Earlier this year, three football players from Conestoga High School were charged with assault in connection to an alleged hazing incident that involved penetrating a teammate’s rectum with a broom handle. Two years prior, Central Bucks school district cancelled the remainder of its high school varsity and junior varsity football seasons due to “allegations of improper conduct,” which included forcing newcomers to grab another player’s genitals while fully clothed. As a result, the district opted to remove head football coach Brian Hensel from his coaching duties moving forward.
High-profile hazing incidents haven’t just been limited to Pennsylvania in recent years, however. In the fall of 2014, seven football players from Sayreville War Memorial High School in New Jersey were charged with sex crimes in connection to a hazing scandal that resulted in the remainer of the team’s season being cancelled. Six of the seven were ultimately placed on probation last fall and were each ordered to serve 50 hours of community service. This past December, three high school basketball players in Tennessee were charged with aggravated rape and aggravated assault after allegedly hazing a 15-year-old teammate.
“The instances of hazing here in Pennsylvania, as well as across the country, clearly are not limited to colleges or universities,” said the original sponsor of the bill, Rep. Ron Marsico, in a statement. “And that’s why our laws need to reflect the severity of these actions, and impose appropriate punishments.”
According to the Associated Press, Gov. Tom Wolf plans on signing the bill into law.
“Every child in this Commonwealth has the right to grow up free from intimidation, torment and emotional distress,” said Marsico. “They deserve to grow up in an environment that allows them to focus their energy on achieving their full potential, and this legislation will allow that to happen.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.