In New Hampshire, Failing to Report Hazing Can End an Educator’s Career
Merriam Webster says that “hazing” means “to subject (freshmen, newcomers, etc.) to abusive or humiliating tricks and ridicule.” The New Hampshire Legislature says that hazing is “any act directed toward a student, or any coercion or intimidation of a student to act or to participate in or submit to any act, when: (1) Such act is likely or would be perceived by a reasonable person as likely to cause physical or psychological injury to any person; and (2) Such act is a condition of initiation into, admission into, continued membership in or association with any organization.” (RSA 631:7)
Most of us know that hazing is wrong. Some may know that hazing is illegal. Fewer know that it is a form of criminal assault. Hardly any know that it is a crime for an individual or an educational institution not to report it to law enforcement or for an educational institution not to take reasonable steps to prevent it (RSA 631:7).
Incidents of hazing seem to capture the headlines when they occur and often exposes some of the most bizarre behaviors imaginable. Here are a few examples:
In May of 2013, in Deerfield Township, Ohio, “six Kings High School [girls] softball players were suspended after they covered teammates’ heads and made them drink an unidentified liquid as part of a hazing ritual during a weekend road trip.” (WCPO-Cincinnati)
In April 2013, the superintendent of Florence Township in New Jersey announced the suspension of members of the high school varsity baseball team for hazing. “The Trenton Times quoted two sources that say the hazing incident included holding down a player while several others on the team bit him causing marks that broke the skin. Another source told the Times this ritual has gone on for years.” (FOX-New York)
In March of 2013 in Raton, New Mexico, “Sources claim two older players took turns simulating rape on three younger players on the back of a bus – and in at least one case, the older player rubbed his genitals on the younger player’s face.” (KRQE-New Mexico)
In Chesapeake, Virginia, “Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Karen Brown said the victims were forced into an SUV and taken from the school to the Bowers Hill area of the city. The victims were placed in a ditch and pelted with human and animal feces and urine, vomit, fish, pickles, liquid from a portable toilet and other matter.” (Kozak, Davis, Plott & Renninger, P.C.)
One unique difficulty with hazing is that as horrific as the violent acts can be, the victim typically wants to be admitted to the group, team, club, or organization so badly that the victim invites and welcomes the hazing. This can turn dangerous or even deadly. For this reason, New Hampshire’s law actually takes the rare and unusual step to criminalize not only the perpetrator’s behavior, but also, in some cases, the behavior of the person to whom the hazing is directed.
New Hampshire’s hazing law (RSA 631:7) makes it a misdemeanor for a person to participate in hazing as an actor, to submit to hazing without reporting it, or to be present at, or have direct knowledge of hazing and fail to report it. For an educational institution, the law makes it a misdemeanor if the institution knowingly permits or condones hazing, knowingly or negligently fails to take reasonable steps within its authority to prevent hazing, or fails to report to law enforcement any incident of hazing reported to the institution or with which it otherwise has knowledge. It makes no difference under the law whether the victim of the hazing consented to it.
Most educators are familiar with mandatory reporting laws that require reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect (RSA 169-C:29), acts of theft, destruction or violence in a safe school zone (RSA 193-D:4), and incidences of bullying (RSA 193-F:4). These laws may encompass many acts of hazing and require reporting under those statutes as well. However, educators shouldn’t overlook the requirements of the hazing statute as the consequences of doing so can be severe. First and foremost is the harm inflicted upon the child or children when the hazing occurs and, in addition, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the severe incidences of hazing that appear on college campuses have roots that reach back into high school.
Beyond the wellbeing of the children, which is paramount, failing to report hazing can end an educator’s career. Under New Hampshire law, a teacher or principal can be terminated if the school board finds the teacher or principal to be “immoral, or who has not satisfactorily maintained the competency standards established by the school district, or one who does not conform to regulations prescribed” (RSA 189:13). One could envision a school board finding that a failure to report or the condoning of hazing is both immoral and fails to conform to regulations. Furthermore, under certain circumstances, failing to act to prevent hazing could give rise to civil, financial liability as well.
Protect yourself along with your students. Review RSA 631:7, share it with your faculty and staff, make sure you have appropriate policies in place and, most importantly, follow the law.
To speak an attorney about an educational, hazing, or other issue, contact Bianco Professional Association by filling out our contact form, by calling 603-225-7170, or reaching us toll-free at 800-262-8112.