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Originally published October 8, 2013 at 4:33 PM | Page modified October 8, 2013 at 5:26 PM

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Editorial: Hazing in the Seattle School District must stop

There’s a thin line between hazing and bullying. The Seattle Public Schools must tackle hazing before someone gets really hurt and the district finds itself writing a very large check.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE culture of hazing at Garfield High School — and the wink-wink condoning of it by students and parents — must end. Principal Ted Howard is right to hang some of the responsibility for a hazing incident that involved 100 students on parents and their kids.

Garfield has temporarily expelled 11 sophomores, juniors and seniors. The students are banned while Seattle police and school officials continue investigating the Sept. 27 incident when students were discovered at the Washington Park Arboretum drinking alcohol. Some were dressed in diapers, being pelted with eggs and paddled with boards.

Some of the students, surprised when Howard and school security aides arrived, hurled derogatory names at the principal — including a racial epithet.

Something is amiss at Garfield and Howard must aggressively confront it. Who are these students who apparently were so confident in their ability to skip classes and assault other students without fear of consequences from parents or the school?

Student expulsions serve as a timeout. But school officials must develop a plan for the students’ return to school. Hazing is forbidden under school rules, but that obviously is not enough. Schoolwide conversations, even after-school workshops, can help spread the message to students that hazing is wrong and will not be permitted. Lessons should go beyond students making poor choices to address a school culture that favors acceptance over self-respect.

Howard emailed parents after the incident asking for their help. Some parents responded poorly, calling Howard overwrought and describing hazing as a harmless rite of passage. Parents, and some students, offered examples of mischievous upperclassmen pranking entering freshman students or Garfield sports-team veterans giving rookies a hard time.

This really ought to be a short debate. Hazing has no place in a healthy school culture where students should be held to behavioral standards built around dignity and self-respect.

Apparently most high schools and colleges are host to some kind of hazing during the academic year. But hazing can, and does, go wrong.

At Inglemoor High School in Kenmore last June, seven juniors were beaten, burned with cigarettes and cigars, and pelted with eggs during hazing. The hazing was an initiation rite for the “Naked Vikings,” a group not officially sanctioned by the school, but allowed to cheer at football and basketball games, according to KOMO 4. The Northshore School District moved swiftly, banning the Naked Vikings.

The task for the Seattle School District is to help stop the hazing. Stop it before someone gets really hurt and the district finds itself in the position of writing a large check because it failed in its role to protect students.

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