School Board addresses hazing allegations involving Desert Hills High cheerleaders

ST. GEORGE — During a public meeting Tuesday, the Washington County School Board addressed recent allegations of a hazing incident involving cheerleaders from Desert Hills High School.

The incident, which took place in June, involved multiple cheerleaders taking younger cheer team members into a room one-by-one before having them lie on the ground with a pillow over their faces. The older girls instructed the new recruits to do a sit-up as quickly as possible when the pillow was removed.

While the girls were lying on the ground, the older girls rubbed a red substance — which team members have now said was lipstick – on their bare bottoms as they squatted over the unknowing teammates.

Video clips of the incident recorded by older girls show the younger girls sitting up quickly, their faces hitting the older teens’ buttocks and transferring the red substance onto their faces.

The school board issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, addressing the incident and reaffirming the district’s zero-tolerance stance:

We are saddened by the recent incident of hazing. Please let there be no question that we will hold and reinforce a zero tolerance of hazing in any of our schools. We are concerned about the culture at our schools. It is apparent that there has been a de-sensitizing of parents and students over the years that has led to an acceptance of these types of behaviors. Let us be very clear: initiation proceedings of this nature are not acceptable and need to stop immediately.

We are inviting our parents to take a stand with us and say ‘no more.’ We are unanimous in the hope that when students and parents know of these activities they come forward, and we will support them. We have an obligation to educate students, faculty and parents in order to create a culture of zero tolerance of hazing in any form.

Washington County School District Communications Director Steve Dunham said further investigation has uncovered that “a disgruntled parent” had used the footage to make a “series of threats and use intimidation against other parents of team members.”

The Washington County School Board addresses the audience during a scheduled meeting, St. George, Utah, Sept. 10, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

According to Dunham, the parent had the footage since June and “held onto it until apparently the timing was best for him.” Dunham called the parent’s actions heart-breaking and frustrating, adding that there needs to be a culture shift, not only among students, but also for parents.

Superintendent Larry Bergeson said he values the parents who have placed their trust in the educators and administrators throughout the district and appreciates that they’re “not afraid to question us about what we are doing to make sure our students are cared for and safe.”

Bergeson echoed the sentiments of the board, adding that the district is using this incident as a teaching moment for students, faculty and parents.

“The character is every bit as significant and important to us as test scores — making sure the morals, values, ethics and character are taught,” he said. “We will do what is necessary and whatever it takes to make sure our students and our staff understand what they need to do to be contributing, caring citizens in this community or any community in which they live.”

Dunham said he could not comment on possible disciplinary actions the older team members could be facing, but individuals familiar with the incident say the team members who allegedly perpetrated the hazing have since been suspended.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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