BISMARCK, N.D. — Poor policies, training and supervision at a North Dakota high school where alleged hazing led to charges against five boys might have contributed to a culture that allowed misconduct including possible sexual assaults for several years, according to a Minneapolis law firm that conducted an investigation.
The report by the Langevin Lentz firm for the Richland 44 School Board details reports from parents of what has come to be called the “rape game” in the community of 150 people 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Fargo. But it also stresses there is much confusion about what has actually occurred.
“There is not a consistent understanding of what the ‘rape game’ is, what behavior occurred, or even what behavior has been reported,” the law firm said.
The term has been described in a number of ways, from finger-poking of the buttocks through clothes to students being restrained and anally penetrated with fingers, according to the law firm, which interviewed school officials and teachers but not students.
Authorities in mid-February referred five boys to juvenile court following alleged misconduct in the boys’ locker room at the Colfax school of 160 students. The offenses allegedly committed against other boys included felonious restraint, terrorizing, hazing and sexual assault.
The school board hired the law firm to look at how the school handled the allegations. It did not interview students because of the ongoing criminal investigation.
The firm’s report said parents reported incidents in recent years occurring in team locker rooms, physical education classes and musical rehearsals, and during field trips.
“The conduct described is viewed by some as troubling and by some as indicative of a culture that allowed the ‘rape game’ to occur,” the law firm said.
Authorities in Bismarck also cited a 14-year-old Richland County boy with sexual imposition related to a mid-December incident at a hotel, though they have not directly connected the referral to an acknowledged investigation into an incident involving Colfax students.
The school’s superintendent and principal are leaving the school on their own. The athletic director has departed, though it’s unclear whether he was fired or resigned. Some school district residents are circulating petitions to try to recall three school board members, including President Lisa Amundson.
The report concluded that communication from administrators to parents and teachers is poor, supervision of the school’s locker rooms is insufficient, district policies on hazing, bullying and discrimination are not easily accessible or understood, training for district officials and employees is lacking, and the organizational relationship between administrators and athletic officials is unclear.
“Variations of the ‘rape game’ may have been occurring at the school since the 2015-16 school year,” the report states. However, it also says that there is nothing to indicate that any reports of “conduct involving restraint or forced participation” were made to school administrators, coaches or teachers.
The report says school officials deleted a social media app the school created as a communication tool for athletes and coaches, after some parents complained about inappropriate content shared by athletes.
Although the law firm did obtain some screen shots, “it is likely that information relevant to our investigation was unavailable to us,” the report said, adding that “the use of private social media for school communications is not best practice.”
Amundson in a statement to The Associated Press on Monday acknowledged that mistakes had been made. She said the situation has divided the community and that the last several months “have been some of the most difficult imaginable.”
“What we can do is all show one another compassion and forgiveness and try to move forward and heal together,” she said.
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