Anti-Bullying Sponsor Stunned by Sayreville
Sports Illustrated and NJ Advance Media are reporting that Sayreville War Memorial High School's football season was scrapped this week because prosecutors are investigating a pattern of lewd behavior. The prime sponsor of New Jersey's anti-bullying law said when she was pushing her legislation, she never imagined a situation like this.
"I think hazing is bullying, so if hazing is bullying it's certainly covered under the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Law in New Jersey," said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood). "Although it's an ongoing investigation, it seems clear this was pervasive bullying."
If the allegations, which include possible digital penetration of younger players by upperclassmen, are substantiated, those involved could face harsh penalties and even criminal charges. School officials could also be disciplined. Under the law, employees are required to immediately report any bullying that they become aware of whether the incident happened in or outside of school. Those who fail to do so face disciplinary action.
"The law goes beyond school property," Vaineri Huttle said. "It goes beyond the time of 3 p.m."
Monday night, during a meeting with players' parents, Sayreville school officials announced that because of the ongoing investigation and hazing allegations, the season was cancelled. In leaked audio from the meeting obtained by NJ Advance Media, school district superintendent Richard Labbe can be heard saying, "There's no evidence to suggest that any staff members were aware of what was going on until last week."
Vainieri Huttle said it's shameful that this incident was first reported last week, because the first week of October is designated as the "Week of Respect," when schools are asked to raise awareness about bullying and its adverse effects by teaching about intimidation and harassment. It's particularly surprising that the allegations surround a football team, according to the assemblywoman.
"When you look at what hazing and associating it with team sports does, it makes it more severe, I think," she said. "When we look at sports in general, we think of teamwork, character building, camaraderie."
Prosecutors have refused to publicly discuss the investigation.