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N.Y. middle schoolers stripped, forced to simulate sex in football hazing ritual, legal papers say | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey


Players on a middle school football team in a bucolic Ulster County town along the Hudson River cornered 7th grade teammates and conducted a bizarre hazing ritual that included pulling off their clothes, holding them upside down and engaging in simulated sexual activity, court papers obtained by the Daily News claim.

The hazing during the football season took place in a part of the Highland Middle School locker room allegedly dubbed the “rape corner” and the “boing-boing corner,” the papers claim.

On Wednesday, the parents of a 12-year-old boy and those of a 13-year-old boy filed notices of intent to sue the Highland Central School District, alleging the hazing took place on multiple occasions earlier this fall and last school year, court papers obtained by The News show.

Lawyers Darryl Dreyer and Joseph O’Connor, who are representing the parents, say they are looking into whether there are more victims from this year or prior years.

“In today’s day and age, you have to be vigilant about this kind of behavior because It’s happening in schools around the country,” said O’Connor, a lawyer who represents the parents of the 12-year-old.

“The school seemed to initially treat it as just horseplay. My clients want to make sure there’s supervision in the locker room and training so it doesn’t happen again.”

FILE – The hazing during the football season took place in a part of the Highland Middle School locker room allegedly dubbed the “rape corner” and the “boing-boing corner,” the papers claim. (Shutterstock)

The controversy over the alleged hazing has shaken the community in Highland, a town of just over 6,000 people about 90 minutes north of New York City. Last week, there was a tense school board meeting where board members tried to allay the fears of parents.

“A lot of people are outraged, some are saying boys will be boys,” said the mother of the 13-year-old. “Other parents have told me this has been going on for years. People need to be held accountable now, and as far as I’m concerned, the school hasn’t done enough.”

Superintendent Joel Freer on Friday shared an Oct. 7 statement issued by the district which said an investigation was conducted and added he was barred by law from discussing any discipline that may have been meted out. The New York State Police are also investigating, he said.

“I want to reassure you that the faculty, staff, administrators, and Board of Education at Highland Central School District care deeply about your child’s safety and well-being,” Freer wrote in the statement.

Darryl Dreyer, one of the lawyers, said the district has so far refused to disclose details of any disciplinary action that may have taken place and more investigation is needed.

“A two-day investigation into allegations that run this deep for a significant amount of time is completely insufficient,” said Dreyer, who is handling the claim with his law partner and wife Sarah Dreyer.

The middle school, which includes grades 6, 7 and 8, sits on Main St. not far from a pedestrian bridge to Poughkeepsie over the Hudson. The town was dubbed “a small community with a feel good spirit” by the New York Times.

The school, which has roughly 380 students fields a “modified” football team consisting of 7th, 8th and, this season, 9th graders from the high school added to fill out the roster.

The middle school, which includes grades 6, 7 and 8, sits on Main Street in Highland, a town connected to Poughkeepsie by a pedestrian bridge over the Hudson. (Shutterstock)
The middle school, which includes grades 6, 7 and 8, sits on Main Street in Highland, a town connected to Poughkeepsie by a pedestrian bridge over the Hudson called the Poughkeepsie–Highland Railroad Bridge. (Shutterstock)

The district’s code of conduct bans hazing. “Hazing is defined as any activity expected of someone joined or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers them,” the policy states.

The 12-year-old, whose name is being withheld because of his age, claimed that in mid-September, two heavier and taller 9th graders held him down while a third rubbed against him in a sexual manner for more than 30 seconds.

Two weeks later, three teammates allegedly dragged him into the “rape corner,” held him down and took off his clothes except his underwear.

“Stop, stop, stop,” the boy begged, the claim states.

HIs alleged tormentors soaked his pants in water, forcing him to go home in wet pants.

After a third such assault, the boy kept his clothes on and fled the locker room to avoid more incidents.

“He had to race home just to avoid it without his shoes and socks. That shouldn’t be part of the middle school experience,” O”Connor said.

The 13-year-old victim, meanwhile, claims five 9th graders threw him to the ground on Sept. 19 and held him upside down as others simulated sexual activity, according to the claim.

The boy’s mother said she learned of the hazing from a school social worker and then spoke to her son.

“I was angry, horrified. I couldn’t believe what they were telling me,” she said. “He’s struggling. It’s going to take time. He’s been on a football team with some of these kids since kindergarten. Football is his life.”

The boy’s claim alleges he had been similarly accosted about five times in the 2022-2023 school year as well, the notice of claim alleges.

The claims allege the coaches allegedly knew about the hazing but told the players they were not “babysitters” and would not police behavior in the locker room.

The coaches subsequently threatened to punish the team with added practice drills if the alleged hazing continue.

Meanwhile, some players threatened others into silence about the ritual, the claims alleges.

The district has seen allegations related to sports filed in the past.

In 2021, two parents sued the Highland district after their 16-year-old daughter was repeatedly groped by the daughter of the high school varsity volleyball coach both during class hours and during volleyball and softball practices, that lawsuit alleged.

After the girl and her parents complained, she was benched by the volleyball coach and school administrators took no action, the lawsuit alleged.

That case settled on July 19, 2022 for $88,000, a copy of the settlement shows.

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