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Investigation finds evidence of hazing on Lakeridge High dance team

Dancers were asked for 'a sexual favor' and subjected to 'inappropriate' tasks designed to humiliate them, report says

Lake Oswego School District and Lakeridge High School administrators said this week they are taking “appropriate action” after an outside investigation found evidence of hazing involving the Pacer dance team.

Students “likely under the influence of alcohol and marijuana” asked for “a sexual favor” from incoming dancers on Aug. 9 and initiated “Truth or Dare tasks” designed to humiliate the girls, according to a report by The Hungerford Law Firm. The report also says coaches “inappropriately” asked dancers to “share personal information about a tragic event in their lives” during a team bonding event at Sunriver in August.

The investigation, which included questioning dancers, parents and students with direct knowledge of what happened, was conducted by Jim Buck, a retired assistant superintendent at a metro-area school district. Buck is also a former executive director of the Oregon School Personnel Association.

KAYLA NORDLUMThe report, which was dated Dec. 10 and addressed to LOSD Superintendent Heather Beck, said Beck requested the investigation shortly after receiving complaints about the judgment and actions of head coach Kayla Nordlum. (Nordlum’s sister, Ashley Nordlum, is the team’s assistant coach.) The complaints also questioned whether the district’s response to the allegations was appropriate.

The Nordlum sisters have a lot of supporters in Lake Oswego, including dance team volunteer Suzanne Young. Young says the girls don’t deserve to be treated with disrespect and that she does not believe the incidents described in the report are accurate.

“The story has been exaggerated,” she said.

Jill Millionis, whose freshman daughter is on the dance team, said the report does not reflect the experience her daughter has had on the team.

“Our coaches have been nothing but caring and giving in supporting these girls. There is so much camaraderie and support,” Millionis said. “I think it’s very frustrating for us and our community at large, because this is so opposing everything we believe is happening on this team. Our coaches are amazing. Our parents are amazing. Our administrators and our staff, we support them 100 percent.”

Despite the allegations, the Pacers have performed well this dance season, taking home first place in the large-group Jazz category during the sixth-annual Oregon Dance and Drill Team Category Championships held earlier this month at Canby High School.

But the Hungerford report paints a picture of a dysfunctional team.

The Hungerford report

“There was sufficient evidence gathered in the investigation to draw these conclusions,” the Oregon City law firm’s report says:

-- Dance team members and other students hazed their fellow classmates during a bonding event on Aug. 9, the report says, and the head coach told a colleague in September that she knew about the incident. “The hazing occurred in an environment where students (not the dancers) were likely under the influence of alcohol and marijuana,” the report says, citing an adult’s unchallenged eyewitness account of the events. “These other students directed degrading name-calling and requests for a sexual favor to dance team members,” the report says.

-- “Truth or Dare” tasks during the Aug. 9 incident included shouting obscenities at the dancers and asking them to engage in acts intended to humiliate them, the report says, violating district policy and the student handbook.

-- During a team bonding event in August at Sunriver, coaches “inappropriately shared deeply personal information with dancers and inappropriately asked dancers to likewise share such personal information about a tragic event in their lives,” the report says.

-- School administrators had credible evidence shortly after the incidents that hazing had occurred, but gave in to parents’ requests to “focus on avoiding future occurrences rather than undertaking an investigation as to what had occurred.” Regardless of parents’ wishes, the report says, an investigation should have been undertaken immediately and with “appropriate discretion and safeguards to limit recrimination.”

-- Students were afraid of the consequences of speaking up, “indicating an unhealthy team culture,” the report says. “This fear also impacts the trust between dancers and their parents.”

-- A dancer was in fact threatened with suspension in August because her parents “allegedly instigated rumors that the head coach felt were undermining the team,” the report says. Administrators gave Kayla Nordlum “correction and direction,” but the report says actions taken later against the dancer “suggest she was subject to reprisal by the coach.”

-- The investigator told two dancers confidentiality was important, but the report says Nordlum asked them about their role in the investigation and warned them of possible consequences if they were to tell anyone, even their parents.

-- High school administrators did take “appropriate action to investigate and resolve complaints in October” about issues related to what Nordlum was saying on social media and “communication concerns with students.”

-- Nordlum was new and wanted dancers to see her as more of a peer than an adult, the report says, and she had a difficult time establishing “the appropriate professional distance” to maintain students’ respect. The report recommended that the district not hire close relatives as coaches on the same team, saying the practice makes it hard for coaches to be objective and causes complications when issues arise concerning a coach’s conduct.

The administration needs to “review orientation procedures for new coaches to ensure proper information is conveyed” before team practices start, the report concludes. It also recommends that the district’s athletic handbook be revised and updated to include “pertinent information regarding the prohibition of hazing and parameters for any ‘bonding’ event.”

Photo Credit: REVIEW FILE PHOTO: J. BRIAN MONIHAN - Pacer dancers have performed well this season, taking home first place in the large-group Jazz category during the sixth-annual Oregon Dance and Drill Team Category Championships held earlier this month at Canby High School.The district’s response

Lakeridge Principal Jenn Schiele responded to the report this week, clarifying some of its findings. For example, she said that the dancers themselves did not direct any sexual comments to their fellow team members, and she emphasized that other students — not the dance team members — may have been drinking or smoking pot during the Aug. 9 event, which reportedly took place at various locations around Lake Oswego, including the Lakeridge High School stadium.

Schiele said the school has a policy that would prevent siblings from supervising one another, but because Athletic Director Ian Lamont is technically the supervisor for all coaches, that rule would not apply in this case. She also described the “fine line” between bonding and team-building, and said training sessions planned by the district would address “what team-building activities are appropriate.”

Schiele said employees are hired on one-year contracts and that the Nordlum sisters will continue coaching the dancers this year. She would not comment on whether their contracts would be renewed at the end of the year. District officials also would not comment on whether the coaches face any disciplinary action, citing state laws and the district’s own personnel policies.

Reached at her home Friday, Kayla Nordlum said she preferred not to comment at this time.

Schiele said that in October she launched an in-house investigation into the social media and communication issues mentioned in the Hungerford report. When she first heard about the hazing from Lamont, she said, they only spoke to the family of the team member who came forward. Administrators dealt with the issue by reading school policy on hazing to all athletes and coaches.

Schiele said she was not initially told about the request for “a sexual favor.” She declined to reveal what other incidents may have occurred, saying that information is personal and up to family members to disclose.

In retrospect, Schiele said, she would have spoken to other team members sooner.

“I would have looked deeper into what exactly had happened instead of what I was told at the time,” Schiele said.

After complaining to Lamont and Schiele, parents turned to Superintendent Heather Beck, who asked The Hungerford Law Firm in November to investigate.

“Moving forward, our focus is on continuous improvement, and one of our actions in response to this incident will be to increase our training for all staff,” Beck said Friday. “This also provides a teaching and learning opportunity for all of our students regarding appropriate boundaries during activities that should foster mutual respect and inclusiveness, and provide a safe environment for all.”

Joe Morelock, the district’s executive director of secondary education, said Thursday that the kind of behavior cited in the report is in violation of state laws on hazing and that administrators, coaches, teachers and students will be taught what is appropriate under local policy and Oregon law.

Now that the investigation has been completed, Morelock said, “appropriate action” will be taken and the district will bring on trainers to raise awareness about what hazing is and how to address and prevent it, possibly as soon as January. Schiele said attorneys also will be included in the process to offer legal insights at the outset of the training sessions.

“It’s unfortunate. ... I’m really hoping that we’re going to be moving forward and putting training in place to make sure we have a positive system for all our students,” Schiele said.

She said one goal now is to reach out to all athletes in all sports at every level, as well as to all club members, to ensure that there is a safe environment throughout the school.

“We don’t want anyone to feel like they have to keep secrets from their parents,” she said.

Morelock pointed out that the alleged incidents are not an uncommon problem.

“This is really not just a Lake Oswego problem,” he said. “This is something that happens all over the country.”

This is not the first controversy to hit the Lakeridge athletic department, though. Earlier this year, the Oregon School Activities Association fined Lakeridge because coaches in a variety of sports did not have proper certification and for a rash of unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties called against the Pacers during football games in 2013.

Players’ performance on and off the field improved dramatically in 2014, however, and Schiele said this year is going smoothly.

“That was a bump last year,” she said. “That should not happen again.”

Contact Jillian Daley at 503-636-1281 ext. 109 or jdaley@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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