No hate crime charges are expected against three students charged in relation to weekly hazing among football players at Conestoga High School as part of so-called “No-Gay Thursdays,” Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan told PGN.
“We looked directly at that and we looked hard at it,” he said. “We have not uncovered any evidence that any of this was motivated explicitly by anti-LGBT bias. None of the kids who were targeted were gay.”
“But I can’t imagine if you are a gay student at Conestoga that ‘No Gay Thursdays’ made you feel particularly welcome or comfortable.”
Hogan told reporters at a March 4 press conference that upperclassmen football players started the weekly hazing to allow explicit sexual behavior like placing their genitals on younger players’ heads and forcing those students to clean the locker room in their underwear.
Hogan said the three students who were charged were all 17 at the time of an alleged incident in October in which two senior football players held down a freshman, who refused to clean the locker room in his underwear, while a third senior penetrated the victim’s rectum with a broom stick.
The three face charges of unlawful restraint, terroristic threats, conspiracy to commit assault and related offenses in the juvenile system. Hogan told PhillyVoice that the victim, who no longer attends the school, requested that sexual offense charges not be filed.
Hogan said the victim’s father reported the incident to the school last month. After the investigation, he said his office communicated with the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District about the need to work with students to curb instances of homophobia.
“We told the district, ‘You need to address this head-on,’” he said, noting they discussed sensitivity training for staff and programs for students.
Mark Cataldi, the district’s director of assessment and accountability, said Conestoga has had a Gay-Straight Alliance and Anti-Defamation League for several years. High school students have been planning activities for the Transgender Day of Visibility March 31 even before news of the hazing surfaced.
“We have a lot of pride that we have these strong groups,” Cataldi said.
Students, teachers, administrators and community members can gather quarterly as part of the district’s Diversity Committee, Cataldi added. He said the Gay-Straight Alliance has given presentations at several of these meetings.
The school district has begun its own investigation to determine the level of supervision provided by the coaching staff, whether code of conduct violations occurred, and what further measures can promote respectful behavior.
Cataldi said the district has policies in place to prohibit hazing and prevent harassment, including any motivated by someone’s sexual orientation.
“This investigation is a top priority for the high school,” Dr. Richard Gusick, superintendent, said in a statement March 4. He added district policy dictates that the athletic director meet with all coaches and teams to go over “expectations for conduct, including no tolerance for hazing.”
The head football coach has been suspended pending the outcome of the school investigation, Gusick said, adding student disciplinary outcomes will remain private.