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VA: Possible Criminal Charges for Incident at Brooke Point High School

The Free Lance-Star has reported a very disturbing story from a Stafford County, Virginia high school. On Oct. 23, a Brooke Point High School player was choked from behind by a fellow player, causing him to fall, strike a locker, and suffer a concussion. He then convulsed and gurgled for a few seconds before waking back up.

School officials and coaches, including principal Scott McClellan, were made aware of the incident that night after the boy’s parents alerted coaches of his injuries after driving him home. In a meeting  on Oct. 27 with parents and players, Principal Scott McClellan said the student was threatened to remain silent.

In response to the incident, the school cancelled the following day’s game against North Stafford. McClellan said to the Free Lance-Star that “We are Brooke Point football. And on this day in that locker room, we weren’t as one. We had a young man that was choked unconscious, and not a single soul took action to help him.”

When questioned by parents, McClellan also admitted that the school, in covering the incident, relied on sections of the county’s student code of conduct that did not require administration to report the incident to the sheriff’s office. It makes you wonder- why the coverup?

Reporting such incidents, however, is required by law. The county sheriff did not learn about the incident until Oct. 28 when it was reported on a DC-area TV station. The sheriff has, since that time, launched a criminal investigation into this incident.

Stafford County Schools spokeswoman Valerie Cotton told the Free Lance-Star on Oct. 31 that
“There was no intent to harm, but it was horseplay gone wrong” and that discipline has been meted out in compliance with the student conduct code. In the later article, she clarified to the Free Lance-Star that the victim here was not a willing participant in whatever rowdiness occured in the locker room. But we must ask once again- why did it take TV reports to get legal action pursued here? Why didn’t Stafford County Schools go forward to law enforcement? Why was the main action taken thus far the suspension of a game, rather than the suspension of students?

Local attorney Jason Pelt told the Free Lance-Star that if the violent contact was not consented upon by the victim, then it would meet the legal definition of assault and battery. He said to the Free Lance-Star that “This is a criminal offense, and it needs to be handled appropriately. And it doesn’t sound like it was handled appropriately.”

McClellan admitted that “This year there had been parent concerns to him and the superintendent about the culture at the high school.” McClellan also explained that coaches’ discipline throughout the year hadn’t really worked with the students. He explained that the organizational culture of the team considers the players special, free of the standards applied to other students. The Free Lance-Star also noted that parents had voiced similar concerns over how disciplined or, as it turns out, undisciplined the team was.

Community members are left puzzled and aghast at the incident. Obviously, this was a disturbing act of inter-team violence, but it is not an isolated incident. Other high-profile cases, including the Sayreville, New Jersey hazing case, show us that bullying is a huge problem in schools. What is to be done?

I believe that we need to take a few steps in order to combat this cultural problem. We need a proactive approach. If discipline is failing, take action before an incident occurs rather than reacting after the fact.

The incident here was also mishandled by school administrators. Rather than follow regulations and the law, school officials decided to internally handle the incident, keeping it from the sheriff’s office in the hopes that this internal resolution would stick. It was not the principal’s call to decide whether or not there was intent to harm in the incident- he should have let law enforcement do their jobs.

We should also further expand on existing state laws for bullying, to hold not only perpetrators but incompetent administrators accountable for cases like these. It is not enough to punish the student; failure to stop these incidents, by coaches or the school administration, is a dereliction of duty.

It’s very disconcerting to find out that the school you trust with your child’s safety cannot, in fact, do a good job of doing so. Parents and students deserve a more reliable culture of applied standards and dependable security.

I think, if the coaches and officials had been proactive in disciplining rowdy players, if they had put the foot down as the toxic organizational culture of the team became apparent, then they would not be dealing with the bad PR and police investigation caused by the case. If they had listened and acted upon parents’ concerns, as was their prerogative, this regrettable incident may very well have been avoided.

Featured image: Shutterstock.com 

Brad Matthews contributed to this report. 

Joan M. Bishop

Joan M. Bishop is a patient's rights advocate based in Fredericksburg, VA and writes about healthcare issues at http://yourpatientsrights.com/ Twitter: @PatientRightsAd

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Categories: Courts & Law, Education, Opinion
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