Pa.'s anti-hazing law extends to high school

Alyssa Pressler
  • On May 31, Gov. Tom Wolf extended anti-hazing policies to high schools.
  • All secondary schools will now need to adopt a written anti-hazing policy.
  • The law also allows expulsion as a penalty for violating the anti-hazing rules.

Pennsylvania high schools and middle schools will be held to the same anti-hazing law that governs colleges once a law signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on May 31 takes effect next month.

Before this measure, the law only included colleges, but in recent years more stories of hazing in high schools, particularly among sports teams, have come to light. Just last October, Susquehannock High School was investigated for a hazing incident. Before that, Northeastern's middle school football team was accused of hazing in 2014.

According to a news release from the governor's office, the law makes several changes, including:

• Expanding the current law to apply to secondary schools, defined as any public or private school providing instruction to grades 7 through 12.
• Amending the definition of hazing to apply the prohibited behaviors to any person, rather than only a student.
• Requiring each governing board of a secondary school to adopt a written anti-hazing policy and to provide this policy, along with the school’s rules, penalties and program enforcement, to all athletic coaches involved with the school’s programs.
• Requiring each governing board of a secondary school to post its written anti-hazing policy on its website.
• Amending the enforcement and penalties subsection of the law to provide that expulsion may be a penalty for a violation of the institution’s anti-hazing rules.

File photo of Gov. Tom Wolf.

“This expansion of the current anti-hazing law, which currently applies only to institutes of higher education, is a huge step in keeping Pennsylvania students protected from bullying and abuse,” Wolf said in the release.

Shelly Merkle, superintendent of York Suburban, said the new law is a positive step toward ensuring students are well-educated about the topic.

"What we're seeing is high school students mimicking college practices more and more, and that unfortunately includes hazing," she said. "While I don't believe hazing is a significant problem at York Suburban, we have to recognize that it is in society as a whole."

Overall, many said they feel the extension of the law is a positive measure in ensuring safe environments for students. According to Jeff Sheridan, Wolf's press secretary, that was the driving reason behind the bill before it became a law.

"Children need to know that they can go to school and be safe during the day as well as after school," he said. "When they don't feel safe, they can't achieve academic success."

Local state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, supported the bill, stressing that hazing isn't just kids being kids.

"I think this is unfortunate that we have to have this policy, but it's necessary," he said. "It's not an issue that we can take lightly."

The law takes effect on July 25, giving schools some time to draft their anti-hazing policies and properly distribute them.