By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – There was a time when students toed the line for fear of getting the paddle from the school principal. Since taking the reins at Morinville Community High School, new principal Todd Eistetter has found any paddling fears students may have stem not from administration but from senior students.
Although not a problem being seen in any great numbers, Eistetter said froshing (the practice of senior students initiating junior students) has undergone a bit of resurgence recently.
“I don’t know that it’s a problem, but it’s something that has started to reappear in the last few years from what we understand, and we need it to stop,” the principal said, adding froshing has been an issue in other communities for a number of years, and one that has resulted in suspensions and expulsions as well as criminal and civil charges. “We have had an incident of that [froshing] occurring in Morinville in the last number of weeks and we want to get the word out that it can’t happen. It is a criminal code offense. It’s assault. It’s humiliation. It’s embarrassment. It’s not good.”
The principal said froshing can take many forms but frequently involves paddling. Often holes will be drilled in the paddle to reduce wind resistance, allowing each strike to be delivered with greater force. “In some cases they put a lot of thought and planning into doing that,” Eistetter said. “They can leave bruises. They can leave contusions. But generally it’s to embarrass.” Regardless of the pain inflicted, physical or psychological, the tradition is for those in higher grades to initiate those just entering Grade 9.
Although he would not elaborate on just what form of froshing occurred involving students at his school, the MCHS principal said the incident took place at a bush party where students from his school and several others in the region attended. “Some of the students who experienced it weren’t impressed,” Eistetter said of the froshing incident. “The student or students who were involved weren’t necessarily cognizant of their own actions and the possible consequences.”
But while the incident took place off school property and outside school hours, Eistetter explained the school and the jurisdiction still have considerable teeth in punishing those involved in such behaviours. “Under Section 45 of the Alberta School Act, a school is responsible for providing a safe and caring environment,” the principal said. “Events that take place outside the school hours – weekends, off campus, wherever it may be – still impacts the environment here.”
The recent incident aside, Eistetter is convinced the problem is not a significant one at his school. It is, however, of significant concern that he wants to make sure the word is out that it will not be tolerated. “We are trying to get as much information out about it as possible and the fact that this just cannot occur,” he said, noting the school has and will continue to push the message through internal and external channels. “From what we understand it’s a very small problem right now, and we want to eliminate it.”
Eistetter said parents need to be aware of what their children are doing, where they are going, and what the activities they are involved in are. “Talk to them about froshing, and tell them if they are of Grade 12 age that they can’t be participating in it,” he said. “If they are the younger age, and they are at a party and it occurs; they need to get themselves out of there. They need to gather their friends and leave. For the older students – they just can’t be involved. The minimum they can do is walk away, but [they need to] tell the person [froshing] to stop and that it’s not right. They need to be able to stand up and take a stance.”
Principal Eistetter said it is important for students who experience froshing or bullying of any kind, be it face-to-face or through social media, to bring it to their parents’ and the school’s attention.
One person the school has been working with in their quest to get the message out is school liaison officer RCMP Constable Cyndie Blackmore.
The RCMP officer explained froshing may be considered harmless and fun by those students engaged in the practice but can quickly escalate into a situation that crosses several criminal code areas, including assault. “By hitting somebody with something or whatever type of punishment they have deemed their hazing ritual for this event; it’s assault,” Blackmore said, noting some students may not realize they are breaking the law. “I think when they’re doing it at the time, there’s alcohol involved and I think they’re doing it for fun. It’s a ritual.”
The RCMP officer said typically froshing is done by Grade 12s as a graduating ritual; something many believe has always been done in schools and therefore will always be done in schools. Blackmore said the recent Morinville incident, far from graduation time, is a concern. “This is the first time I’ve seen it this early on,” she said. “I think they’re doing it in sport and doing it in fun, but they’re not realizing that things can get out of hand pretty quickly.”
Like Principal Eistetter, Constable Blackmore said froshing is something her detachment doesn’t see a great deal of; however, like all crimes, she believes froshing is cyclical. As such, she feels it is important to get the word out that the practice will not be tolerated.
“When I hear them talking and chatting I do interrupt them and I tell them things do get out of hand,” she said. “I will go through the legal consequences for them so that they kind of understand [what could happen] if it gets reported.”
Blackmore said often times students who have experienced froshing do not report the incident for a variety of reasons, including fear of reprisal, fear of humiliation or the mistaken belief it is simply a part of high school life. “A lot of them don’t report it. They think it’s just standard. Everybody’s done it. Everybody does it. It’s no big deal,” she said, noting if incidents are not reported, they cannot be stopped. “It’s important to report it. That way we can understand how much of a pattern and how big an issue it [froshing] is.”