April 07, 2020

Ten MCI students punished for hazing

PITTSFIELD – Maine Central Institute responded to an off-campus incident of hazing by doling out discipline to about 10 students, its chief administrator said Friday, hoping to send a message that the private high school will not tolerate any such offenses in the future.

No charges have been filed, police said, and no students have been expelled, and the victims were back in school the day after the incident, which occurred Tuesday night.

Head of School Joanne Szadkowski said school administrators became aware of the matter Wednesday morning, and began an investigation.

They learned a group of students were working on floats for homecoming events at a private home when some students targeted a handful of the group for some kind of a practical joke that apparently escalated into “reckless” offensive behavior, she said.

Szadkowski would not describe the exact nature of the offenses, but stressed it was not planned by the perpetrators.

“They started playing ‘one-upmanship,'” apparently related to homecoming competition between classes, but it got out of hand, she said.

“We identified about five students we felt were unjustly treated,” Szadkowski said.

None of the victims sought medical attention, there were no sexual aspects of the hazing, and all were in class Wednesday morning, she said. No property damage was reported, she added.

Szadkowski characterized the nature of the hazing as damaging to students’ dignity.

Administrators acted after determining the involvement of students in the hazing.

“We felt the behavior warranted action being taken. We felt we needed to make a stand on it,” Szadkowski said, to reinforce MCI’s “strict zero-tolerance on hazing.”

Discipline varied, she said, because some students were actively involved in the behavior while others observed, tacitly allowing it. No students were expelled from the school.

MCI, serving grades nine through postgraduate, has a student body of 515, and accepts boarding students from around the U.S. and world, while also serving as the regional high school for Pittsfield, Burnham and Detroit. About 20 percent live on campus.

Szadkowski said some students were upset that she canceled some of the homecoming events in response to the hazing, and some in the school community have suggested she overreacted.

“What the kids did in fun was not fun for the others. Disrespect of one person affects the whole school,” she said, explaining her decisions.

“We’re sending a message to the entire school body that you’re not only responsible for yourself, but you’re responsible for your classmates as well,” she said. The school is urging students to “treat each other like good siblings,” she said.

Administrators met with the student body, and Szadkowski met with the senior class to discuss the incident and stress MCI’s standards of behavior.

On Thursday night, a group of seniors met with Szadkowski in her office, she said, and some of the students expressed regret about not acting to stop the hazing.

“The kids who were disciplined are good kids,” she said, and none had any record of bad behavior. “We have some kids who have learned a very valuable lesson.

“There was no intention of humiliating or hurting anyone,” she said, but the school needed to educate students that “we don’t tread on other people’s dignity,” she said.

Pittsfield police Chief Steve Emery said that as of Friday morning no parents had filed complaints about the incident. School officials made him aware of what happened, and officers increased their presence on campus after the incident but took no further action.

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