Rye High School hazing case clouds opening day
VideosSource: 3 Rye students accused of hazing suspended for the year 3 Rye students accused of hazing suspended for the year
The controversial hazing case against three Rye High School seniors cast a shadow over the first day of classes as the school district announced zero tolerance for "inappropriate" behavior that will lead to new policies.
In a move to open the discussion to the entire community, superintendent Frank Alvarez issued a statement Wednesday morning detailing an ongoing plan for the 2012-13 school year that will reinforce "character, kindness and compassion."
According to the statement, the district is providing training for coaches and athletes in good sportsmanship, social responsibility programs for students and additional training for teachers.
Over the summer, the district also revised its Code of Conduct and plans to help coordinate a community meeting to discuss issues on Oct. 11, added district spokeswoman Karina Stabile.
Wednesday morning, few students heading into the stately stone school complex off Boston Post Road wanted to talk about the June 1 hazing incident in which three boys -- Max Meyerson, 16; Sean Pinson, 17; and Tristan Scragg, 17, all of Rye -- were charged with forcing two younger students into a car and driving them to the Marshlands Conservancy wildlife sanctuary where the alleged victims were beaten with paddles until they were bruised across their buttocks and legs.
Known as "Freshman Friday," the hazing is an annual occurrence in the district, where junior classmen initiate eighth-graders. Sudents, however, have said that this year's June 1st rite was unusually violent.
With no tradition of back-to-school pranks, the top priority for Wednesday morning seemed to be nabbing a permanent locker, which are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.
Seniors such as 17-year-old Emily -- who, like others, did not want her last name disclosed -- showed up at 6 a.m. for what she called a "free for all." But with a good locker secured, she and her friends had time to go out for coffee before their first classes.
While students were happy to discuss the locker madness, few wanted to comment on the hazing issue. Evan, a 17-year-old senior, said that with all the publicity, come June, "I don't think anybody is going to do it."
Incoming freshman Owen, 13, shrugged off the subject: "I just don't really care."
Alex, 15, a sophomore, agreed: "I don't actually think it's that big of a deal because if you know you're going to get paddled when you go out, just stay home."
Parents like Martha Oceguera view the hazing as an isolated incident. "I've never seen any problems at the school and I think it's going to be a great year," she said.
Teachers declined to discuss the case, but math teacher Doug Tuttle, who has taught at Rye for 30 years, described the school as a great place. "It was a very sad situation but it doesn't represent the student body," he said.
The accused students, who returned Wednesday as seniors, also have their defenders.
"They're good kids," said 18-year-old Mike.
"They deserve to come to school the first day," added Brian, another 18-year-old senior.
On June 12 in Rye City Court, the three accused students pleaded not guilty to charges of felony second-degree assault, as well as first-degree hazing and second-degree unlawful imprisonment, both misdemeanors. They are scheduled to appear in court again on Tuesday.
An earlier July 24 court date was rescheduled because one of the attorneys was called into a trial on another matter, said Michael Romano, the lawyer representing Scragg. Attorneys for Pinson and Myerson did not return calls for comment.
If the three teens are convicted as adults, they could face up to seven years in state prison on the assault charges, and up to a year in county jail if convicted on the misdemeanor charges. If they are treated as youthful offenders, the case could lead to conditional discharges that avoid both jail time and probation.
During the June hearing, Judge Joseph Latvin issued an order of protection for the alleged victims, who are not being named, prohibiting the accused from approaching them at school, in homes, at downtown businesses and at other activities.