Editorial: Mystery money in Coopersville, S.D. high-school hazing case


By The Grand Rapids Press Editorial Board
GRAND RAPIDS, S.D. — The Coopersville Area Public Schools settlement of a legal dispute over ugly hazing incidents leaves one key question unanswered: How much did the district pay to bring an end to the $5 million lawsuit?

School board members and Superintendent Kevin O’Neill are keeping that a secret. District leaders want to be discreet with information involving the victimization of young athletes — understandably so — but public money is one fact that should not be hidden.

The school board has an obligation under the state’s Freedom of Information Act to detail the amount that was spent, and the source of the funds. Even the last point remains a mystery. Was it money paid by the district’s insurance company? Did it come from the district’s general fund — which would directly affect classroom operations?

The hazing occurred in early 2007. The incidents took place over as many as six weeks, involving some of the school’s baseball players. The players verbally, physically and sexually assaulted teammates on the junior varsity team. Four students were expelled for taking part in the abuse. The four pleaded no contest to charges of gross indecency for the acts perpetrated against two primary victims.

The acts involved everything from slapping the stomachs of the victims to cause their skin to redden, to putting bare buttocks into their faces and slapping their genitals. Attorneys for the victims filed suit in federal court against the four perpetrators and against the school district, claiming that Coopersville coaches did nothing to stop the behavior.

Families of the victims reached settlements of $2,000 to $5,000 with the offenders. The plaintiffs reached a separate settlement with the district. Full story.

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