Senior pranks that might be defined as kidnapping and assault are no laughing matters to Lawrence public school district administrators.
Supt. Randy Weseman said Monday that students had been suspended, with more suspensions possible pending further investigation of alleged hazing by students at Free State High School and Lawrence High School. He declined to reveal the number of seniors under scrutiny.
"This is an emerging thing," Weseman said. "I think it's very serious."
Parents and students have complained to the Journal-World that sophomores have been the victims of forced head shavings. They've also had their cars duct-taped and their houses and vehicles egged, parents said. There have been reports of students shooting paint guns at cars and destroying taillights. Sophomores allegedly endured a paddle line by seniors wielding 2-by-4s. One paddling victim may have suffered a broken bone. Other sophomores have reportedly been driven part way to Topeka and left to walk home.
The parents and students asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
But the superintendent and others had plenty to say.
"It's done in a careless, thoughtless manner under the guise of being a joke," Weseman said. "We're not tolerating it."
Julie Boyle, the district's director of communications, said the district would punish students for hazing regardless whether the acts occurred on or off school property.
"As a district," she said, "we have the authority to pursue student disciplinary action outlined by policy even though this did not occur on school time."
Boyle said reports of hazing would be forwarded to Lawrence Police.
Sgt. Mike Pattrick said Monday night he had yet to receive information outlining the alleged hazing incidents.
Scott Morgan, the school board's vice president, said some senior traditions, such as toilet-papering houses, didn't upset him. However, he said, actions that "might nicely be called assault" warrant swift action by district administrators.
A senior involved in shaving a sophomore's head was apparently suspended. It's possible one of the sophomores who went through the paddle line has a broken tailbone, Morgan said.
Dick Patterson, principal at LHS, said the district had a record of not ignoring dangerous hazing by seniors.
"At both high schools we've increased security and made announcements to students that anything that is disruptive behavior to the school, each other or the community is subject to due process or criminal charges," he said.
Patterson said one parent called Friday to report her house had been egged.
"I encouraged her to call the police and press charges and not accept it," he said.
Patterson said this week was packed with events for seniors, including Sunday's mud volleyball tournament, an awards assembly, Chesty the Lion's birthday today, a senior barbecue Thursday and a day off Friday.
"We do give them a special week, and there's no reason that they should be doing things that are hazing and inappropriate," he said. "Both high schools have taken the same position on this."
He said extra security was placed at LHS at night to deter potential vandals or pranksters.
"We already had in place security at school to make it clear that, no matter what alumni or older siblings have said, this is not acceptable," Patterson said.