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Originally published Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 9:08 PM

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Garfield High hazing grows ugly; police, school investigating

Underclassmen were being paddled, wearing diapers, having eggs thrown at them and shoe polish put on them when Garfield High’s principal and a group of police officers broke up an event Friday after school.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Principal Ted Howard’s email to Garfield parents

Do you know where your son or daughter is at tonight? I spent the afternoon with Officer Radford and many other officers walking through the Arboretum. One hundred or more Garfield students were participating in hazing incidents, drinking hard alcohol and beer. Students were being paddled, had on diapers, eggs were being thrown at students and shoe polish was all over their body. As students ran and scattered from the scene they caused at least one, maybe more car accidents due to running in front of cars. I was also called a (racial slur) by a student and many other derogatory names.

As I email you tonight I asked the question do you know where your son or daughter is at? I ask that question because I want you to know that we all have a responsibility to keep our kids safe. We all work hard to make sure they learn life lessons and make better decisions. Tonight some of our students didn’t make good decisions. If students were there to watch, cause harm to another student or behave inappropriately this impacts the entire GHS community and puts the GHS community in a negative light.

I am asked every year how we will address hazing. Every year we work really hard to teach our students about respect, how to honor each other’s cultures, and to have empathy. I am asking you tonight to continue that conversation with your son or daughter. We are a community, a community that grows together and learns together. Please have a conversation with your son and daughter about decisions, how they can and will impact people’s lives.

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Seattle police and school officials are investigating the latest in what some say has become a “tradition” of hazing at Garfield High School.

Underclassmen were being paddled, wearing diapers, having eggs thrown at them and shoe polish put on them when the school’s principal and a group of police officers broke up an event Friday after school.

In an email to parents, Principal Ted Howard said the group of about 100 students were drinking “hard alcohol and beer.” They were gathered at the Arboretum, and several of them shouted profanities as they ran away, including one who tossed a racial slur at Howard. At least one fender bender occurred nearby, caused by the fleeing students running in front of cars, Howard said.

A police report was not released Tuesday, Seattle police spokeswoman Renee Witt said, because students have been intimidated in the past by upperclassmen into not cooperating with investigators.

“This happens each year with these juniors and seniors,” Witt said. “When officers try to investigate, [the students] get peer pressured into dropping the case. They’re trying to get these victims to follow through.”

It’s not clear how many students were subject to the hazing Friday or whether any have been punished so far. The school’s website says hazing is not tolerated, will result in suspension and “will be considered criminal offenses and treated as such.” Incidents are reported “to ALL college school applications and/or work references” of those involved, the website says.

It has varied in form, but hazing has long been practiced at Garfield, students and officials say. School district spokeswoman Teresa Wippel called it a “tradition” among the school’s students, one the school is continuing to work to stamp out.

The “froshing,” or hazing of underclassmen, occurs mainly on two Fridays a year: homecoming — last weekend — and “purple-and-white” weekend in the spring, which celebrates school spirit. Some of the teasing is innocuous enough, like making freshmen wear silly clothes. But it sometimes gets more serious: After school on the two weekends, some upperclassmen take freshmen off campus to paddle them, pelt them with eggs and make them drink or smoke, among other things.

Though these more extreme cases garner the most attention, they are rare, according to Student Body President Kellen Bryan. Most “froshing” is lighthearted, he said, intended to be more of a bonding experience, and freshmen can choose whether to participate.

Garfield’s student government doesn’t condone any of it, though. Its members don’t participate, instead providing alternatives, such as free barbecues, to discourage students from taking part in “froshing.”

The school is aware of the issues; its resource officer warns the student body at assemblies on the Fridays before homecoming and “purple-and-white” weekends every year that “froshing” is illegal and that they should not participate.

But the hazing persists.

One senior said it’s so pervasive in the school culture that some feel as though the only way to join clubs and meet upperclassmen is through “froshing.” Some estimated about half of the student body has participated.

Bryan said the practice has declined in intensity over the past few years. He credited the Garfield administration and parents with taking an active role in helping to discourage it.

“It has gone down dramatically,” he said. Nevertheless, he said, last week’s event was cause for concern.

“Especially after the incident that happened Friday, we will be working extra hard to provide alternative activities,” Bryan said.

Howard’s letter said the school puts great emphasis on respect and empathy among its students to address hazing. He asked parents to continue the dialogue with their children.

“We are a community, a community that grows together and learns together,” he added. “Please have a conversation with your son and daughter about decisions, how they can and will impact people’s lives.”

Colin Campbell: 206-464-2033 or ccampbell@seattletimes.com

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