Investigation criticizes school officials in Milton, Vt., for handling of hazing

Investigation criticizes school officials in Milton, Vt., for handling of hazing

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Investigation criticizes school officials in Milton, Vt., for handling of hazing

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Milton High School (Photo: Burlington Free Press file)

Milton High School (Photo: Burlington Free Press file)

Five Milton (Vt.) School District employees, including Superintendent John Barone and high school Principals Anne Blake and Scott Thompson, failed to follow school policies in the wake of hazing rituals for the varsity football team, a new independent investigation uncovered.

The report was designed to determine if Milton School District administrators and employees followed all rules, regulations and policies designed to protect children.

A previous criminal investigation revealed Milton football players held initiations that included sexually hazing younger players with broom sticks or pool cues, court records showed.

The hazing case spread over several years and included criminal convictions for five former players. One hazing victim committed suicide a year after he was assaulted, and the state Legislature adopted a new law designed to provide greater protection for children, including hazing.

The legislation was passed in part due to the suicide of Jordan Preavy one year after he was the victim of the hazing ritual.

The new report written by retired Vermont State Police Capt. Dan Troidl listed failures by Milton officials to follow the rules they were hired to uphold.

The Burlington Free Press, a Gannett property, obtained the Troidl report Thursday morning following a public-records request.

Investigator Troidl wrote in the inch-thick report:

• Barone, the superintendent, denied any knowledge of the Preavy incident, “yet there is significant evidence to the contrary.” Troidl said there is evidence the superintendent spoke by speaker phone to Principal Blake and then-Athletic Director Joe Solomon about the Preavy hazing case. A decision was made not to report the incident to the Department for Children and Families — one of two cases Troidl focused on.

• Principal Blake failed to make a written report after learning about the Preavy suicide and noted the “perpetrator” was no longer a student as required under the hazing policy.

Blake became aware of a second unrelated incident when another student told two teachers he was considering killing himself because of bullying and that he subsequently brought a gun to school.

Scott Thompson, who was assistant principal, was aware of a Facebook posting that alleged bullying and harassment of the second student, but failed to notify the boy’s parents as required by the school’s bullying policy.

Troidl wrote that the other two employees — Solomon, the athletic director, and teacher/coach Jim O’Grady — did make efforts to follow the hazing policy but “failed to fully comply” by not reporting to DCF on their own.

O’Grady was given credit for being the first staff member known to come forward about the Preavy case involving hazing. He reported the hazing allegation to Solomon and Blake and believed the school district would follow through to make a report to DCF. Troidl stated in his investigation O’Grady should have filed his own report with DCF.

Solomon was the second staff member to learn about the Preavy hazing case. He took part in a conference call with Blake and Barone. Because none of the students involved were current students, a decision was made to never file a report. Troidl said Solomon was still mandated to file a report with DCF.

Attempts to reach Barone, Blake and Thompson were not immediately successful. Nobody answered the phones at the Milton Superintendent’s office or the Milton High School Thursday morning.

John Barone, superintendent of the Milton Town School District, looks on as five former Milton High School football players accused of hazing, are arraigned a charge of simple assault each in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington on Tuesday, August 19, 2014. (Photo: Free Press file)

John Barone, superintendent of the Milton Town School District, looks on as five former Milton High School football players accused of hazing, are arraigned a charge of simple assault each in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington on Tuesday, August 19, 2014. (Photo: Free Press file)

 

Investigation begins

The Milton School Board, at the urging of one of its members, Karen LaFond, voted in September to seek the independent investigation. The vote followed word about the arrest of the five former Milton High football players on assault charges stemming from annual hazing of underclass players in 2011 and 2012.

LaFond said it was critical to know whether all policies and procedures were followed, or whether cases were mishandled. Questions had surfaced as to what Milton school administrators knew about hazing and when they each learned about the allegations.

Several hundred people also signed an online petition asking for an independent investigation.

The vote for the independent investigation was 4-0 with then-School Trustee Jim Lyons abstaining. Lyons, who has since died, said he preferred to wait to vote until after Oct. 3, when a public forum on hazing was planned.

Barone as superintendent told the School Board last fall he opted not to conduct his own investigation into hazing reports in part because of what he thought was a thorough probe by the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations leading to the arrests.

CUSI and Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan said the investigation focused on possible criminal activity and did not study local policies and procedures adopted by a school board.

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