Pattye Benson

Community Matters

TESD Administration reacts against Conestoga High School hazing with strong words and offers course for change

Hazing abuseIn the two weeks since Chester County DA Tom Hogan filed charges of assault, conspiracy, unlawful restraint and other crimes against three Conestoga football players, the hazing scandal has brought nationwide attention to the TE School District. Allegedly, the senior boys penetrated a freshman teammate with a broomstick after he refused to help other underclassmen clean the locker room while wearing just their underwear. According to Hogan, the “No Gay Thursdays” was a tradition started by the football team at least three or four years ago, in which behavior the team normally considered to be “gay” was considered “not gay” on Thursdays,

The hazing scandal has quickly gained national attention and continues to appear in articles from the New York Times to the Washington Post. Locally the community appears divided between those students and parents suggesting that the October 15 incident never happened to others in the public who were outraged and wanted answers.

I have found myself caught in the middle of the two camps. I fully support ‘innocent until proven guilty” regarding the three Conestoga football players – the presumption of innocence is essential to the criminal process. We know of mistakes made by overzealous district attorneys and lawyers who were quick to judge – look at the Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape in 2006. The mishandling in that case cost that district attorney his job and his law license, not to mention the millions of dollars paid by Duke University for legal bills and lawsuits. On the flip side, it is hard to believe that the highly respected Chester County DA Tom Hogan and his office were not thorough in their investigation. Regardless … the boys are innocent until proven guilty.

There are important issues at play here. One is the criminal charges filed against the football players for the alleged assault. On that score, it is up to the legal process to decide the fate of those accused not the school district or the residents. But another important issue is this so-called “No Gay Thursday” weekly hazing tradition – and the expectation from many in the community (including myself) that the administration can (and should) institute a zero-tolerance hazing policy going forward.

On Thursday, TESD Supt. Dr. Richard Gusick and Conestoga HS Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger released a letter to school district families. (Click here to read letter). Although understandably unable to comment on the legal investigation, the letter provides an update on the District’s internal investigation and findings, including the following:

* Hazing activities occurred with some members of the football team over the past several years, including back slapping, horseplay, and obscene behaviors targeted toward underclassmen.

* These activities sometimes occurred under the label of “No Gay Thursday.”

* No interviews or other evidence indicated that any adult had knowledge of these activities.

* The locker rooms had an insufficient adult presence throughout the football season, creating an environment where hazing activities could occur.

Accepting responsibility that hazing had occurred at the high school, the letter went on to say, that the school “… does not accept any type of intolerance, hazing, bullying or intimidation within our school community. “No Gay Thursday” is ignorant, intolerant, and has no place in any school. Even though no gay students were specific targets of discrimination, the practice itself is an affront to us all. We are committed to eliminating these activities and providing a positive, respectful environment that is safe for all students.”

These are words that the community needed to hear – a statement containing a clear anti-hazing message and indication that the District is taking the hazing seriously and is taking strong action against it for the future.

We also learned from the letter that John Vogan, Conestoga’s head football coach, had resigned, effective immediately. And that the entire football coaching staff was relieved of all coaching responsibilities in all sports through the fall season. (Does this mean there’s an opportunity for the District to re-hire the coaching staff after the Fall season?)

The administration is recommending hiring a full-time Athletic Director for TESD middle school and high school sports programs. Creating a new position for oversight of the sports programs is a good suggestion – however, for me there’s one caveat, conduct a search and hire from the outside. The District athletic program needs a new start.

This tragedy has shaken all of us and the public needs assurance that the District will take every step to try to prevent this from happening again. Although originally the stance was no public meetings on this topic, the District has changed course and is now encouraging residents to share their thoughts on Monday, March 28, 6 PM in the auditorium at Conestoga High School. This meeting will occur before the regularly scheduled school board meeting which starts at 7:30 PM.

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  1. Having just read the School District’s latest update, must say they seem a whole lot more concerned with the apparent anti-gay aspects of this/these incident(s) than the fact that a serious assault was allowed to occur. No doubt all the students involved have spent their entire school careers in the district having diversity and tolerance conditioning driven into them at significant taxpayer expense – all to apparently no avail. And the School District’s solution is to spend yet more money on consultants doubling down on the same. Perhaps it’s time to consider spending our money on more staff with moral fiber and the welfare of our children uppermost in their minds – and task these folks with good old fashioned supervision and discipline.

  2. I gather from all I’ve read that no guilt has been found yet. What a shame that the head football coach had to resign before we know the truth. He was an honorable, well-liked, and hardworking man who put a lot of extra time and effort into his job. It seems he was a scapegoat to appease the community.

  3. I think the letter is good. It’s open and direct.

    It has been established and accepted that “No Gay Thursday” has been around for years. Most kids knew about it (especially upperclassman) and as law enforcement has stated, it is impossible to believe that no Administrator or others in charge didn’t know about it.

    The letter states that:

    “Conestoga does not accept any type of intolerance, hazing, bullying or intimidation within our school community.”

    Bullying and intimidation and retribution is endemic, in fact normalized, in the TE School District. It was the very management style of the top Administrators in the District which explains why it is so pervasive.

    Bullying, intimidation and retribution is the management style that emanated from the top.

    Naturally it’s pervasive in the overall culture of the school.

    1. Top Administrators have been so unconscious that they do not have the self awareness to recognize that bullying is their modus operandi.

      The children of this community, the students, achieve excellence because of their own capabilities and support of their families, many times in spite of the administration, not because of the administration. The bullying tactics of these Administrators are a bit more sophisticated than taking our children’s lunch money, they take credit for their accomplishments.

      Cloaked in the stolen success of our children, the Administration shields themselves from public scrutiny and seduces the school Board into capitulating to their every whim.

      That, folks is TE.

  4. Pattye,

    I believe and it is my opinion that D.A. Hogan was thorough in his investigation. Belief in guilt or innocence is irrelevant because it is opinion.

    It is a fact that holding that the accused is innocent until proven guilty is one of the most sacred principles in the American Justice System.

    Because D.A. Hogan was thorough in his investigation does not mean the accused are guilty or innocent.

  5. I have many questions. I think we ALL should have questions. So how would everybody feel if it turned out that that original accusations were false? That the “back slapping and horseplay are the kind of things that go on in every football locker room? What if the assault was completely made up and never happened? Is anyone aware that the kid at the center of these accusations is the same kid who was at the root of the “sexting ” scandal at TE and VF middle and that he did not leave our school district because of this current alleged scandal but was expelled for his role in the first story? Are you aware that there has been a rule in place that no staff are allowed in the locker room when kids are in there (perhaps put in place to deter any potential “Sandusky” situation)? Does coach Vogan and his entire staff deserve to be fired before we even know whether these things are true? The DA presented this to the public like he had hard evidence and these allegations were fact. His decision to break the news on a Friday afternoon shortly before the school day ended created a media circus around Conestoga so bad that teachers had to secure the perimeter of school just so the kids could get on their buses and leave without being accosted by media. That really drew attention and put a big old spotlight on the DA but was that “good” for our kids? It seemed like everyone assumed guilt immediately, got indignant and offended and without any trial or evidence wanted someone to go down for this. The coach, a man who has devoted all of his time, love and energy to your children for many, many years, and his coaching staff became the sacrificial lambs. Shouldn’t this have waited until we’ve had a trial and have all the facts?

    I’m not saying bad things did not happen but aren’t we supposed to ask for proof before we condemn people after they’ve been accused?

    1. StogaMom,

      There was a meeting last week where Supt. Gusick, Principal Meisinger and A.D. Boyle met with the football team and their parents for 2 hours.

      A.D. Boyle was asked specifically what they expected Coach Vogan to have done that would have prevented this alleged incident.

      A.D. Boyle stated that they expected that he would physically go in the locker room and monitor student activity.

      Clearly there is confusion about the reported policy that Coaches could not go in the locker room.

      Like you, I do not believe Coach Vogan or the Football staff should have “tendered their resignations” before the conclusion of the criminal judicial process.

      They are being scape goated and it’s not right.

  6. In our prisons young prisoners are subjected to the type of horror the freshman was subjected to. I feel that coach Logan Will be the scapegoat. Where as the AD and principal should resign .

  7. Administrators also stated in the football team parent meeting that they were surprised by Hogan’s press conference.

    They seemed like they were blindsided by it.

  8. I just hope that the meeting Monday night is not controlled by the admin and that people who want to speak are allowed to speak freely and that the “tough” questions are allowed to be asked.

    1. If past is any indication of future, Art McDonnell and company will pass out blank index cards and tell everyone to write their questions and comments on them and he’ll say that he will give them to the board to answer.

      Like the community meeting at the High School after Sandy Hook where around 300 citizens showed up on a night where the hockey team had a big game, there was a junior class parent college meeting and other activities preventing many others from attending, in Jan. 2013, Art will look through the cards, and cherry pick the ones he gives the Board to answer.

      Dr. Waters announced that he hired Andy Chambers, his self proclaimed friend, and fired Tredyffrin ex Police Chief as a consultant to write a report on school safety.

      Hence, the fencing debacle we’re dealing with now.

  9. Lee – you sound like may who assume guilt without any proof. The alleged assault is still under investigation, and the SB letter indicated that there didn’t appear to be enough evidence of it to take harsher action against the 3 alleged assailants. Since the school admin supposedly interviewed everyone that the detectives did, I find this troubling.

    1. Guest5,

      This is what the letter states:

      The District Attorney’s office and the police are limited in what they can share with us about their own very extensive investigation. Therefore, the District does not have access to the same testimony or other evidence as law enforcement. After following every lead provided by the police, we have not received enough evidence to make a definitive determination at this time. We have an obligation to base any conclusions about a matter of such seriousness and consequence on the evidence that is available to us. The investigation into the alleged assault remains open,

  10. You do realize that there is a regular school board meeting with 3 Priority Discussion Items on the agenda that starts at 7:30. Doesn’t give a lot of time for community members that like to ramble on and also get any real answers to any tough questions.

  11. Yes, i did see that and , in my opinion, I don’t think they (DA and police) have credible evidence of the alleged assault and realize that now and are panicking as to how they are going to handle this and somehow save face.

    Again, in my opinion, the alleged assault charges will quietly be dropped and people will assume that a deal was cut or the lawyers got them off.Will the DA do the same media tour when this happens?

  12. Being a proud student of the TESD school district and Conestoga, I can confidently say that we do have diversity and tolerance drilled into us. And we are diverse and tolerant people – no, not tolerant, but open-minded people. There is very little anti-gay sentiment shared here – none that I’ve ever heard. (I only say “very little” because I must account for the fact that some guys occasionally say “That’s so gay.” but it’s hard to avoid some insult that is not well thought-out.)

    This reply is not particularly needed now that it has been revealed that the accuser has confessed to have lied. HOwever, I feel the need to state my mind on Conestoga and how wonderful the people here are. Being gay is not anything to make someone inferior or barely stand out here. It is no longer a weird thing or unusual. They are just being who they are. That is the view shared by almost everyone here.

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