Complaints filed about sexual harrassment by Kennewick High band students

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldNovember 1, 2013 

Parents of students in an Oregon high school have complained to the state that some members of the Kennewick High School marching band sexual harassed, hazed and bullied their kids.

Several Kennewick band members "reached out and grabbed, groped and swatted St. Helens band students on their butts, crotches and in other locations" during a band retreat in Yakima last month, according to a letter from the St. Helens Band Patrons Parent Organization.

The letter was sent to the Kennewick School District, festival organizers and the Washington State Board of Education. And the state board has forwarded the complaint to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to be reviewed.

Kennewick schools spokeswoman Robyn Chastain had yet to receive the booster club's letter Friday and said the district will respond to the group directly when it arrives.

However, in response to questions from the Herald, Kennewick officials said in a statement that several students of the 60-member marching band admitted to giving congratulatory "pats" or "slaps" on the backsides of students from another school as they were passing them at the retreat.

An unspecified number of Kennewick students were disciplined, though details of the punishment weren't released. Chastain confirmed that is was "some" but not all of the band.

The St. Helens group's letter said they're unhappy with responses from Kennewick teachers and administrators and officials didn't follow Kennewick student conduct policies. Instead, they claim the behavior seems to be allowed to persist.

The booster letter quotes an email from Kennewick High Principal Van Cummings as saying: "According to our percussion captain, this has happened for several years and at many competitions and has become a percussion section tradition."

More than 40 St. Helens students reported being touched by Kennewick band members from one to 15 times during an evening retreat at Yakima's Harvest Marching Band Festival. The touching "was clearly a planned and premeditated act of hazing," the boosters' letter said.

Kennewick district policy says a student caught engaging in sexual harassment will face discipline or sanctions, but does not spell out minimum or maximum punishments.

Chastain said Cummings told St. Helens High's principal about his conversations with Kennewick High band members and what discipline was taken.

"The (Kennewick High) students involved recognize that this type of behavior is inappropriate and have sent a letter of apology on behalf of the entire marching band," Chastain told the Herald in an email.

But the boosters said they were not satisfied.

"The token letter of apology, signed 'Lion Marching Band,' is meaningless as it does not prove that anyone was held accountable," the letter said.

The Herald could reach St. Helens' district officials Friday afternoon.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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