POLL: Do you think high school hazing is a widespread problem?
A culture of bullying and hazing existed on the Ooltewah High School boy's basketball team for months, maybe even years, before the pool-cue rape of a freshman player, allegedly by three of his teammates, according to a new report.
And while coaches knew about "excessive horseplay," the attorney who conducted the report could not determine if they were aware of its severity, but concluded the men failed to properly address the issue.
The Hamilton County Board of Education commissioned Courtney Bullard, an attorney with Spears, Moore, Rebman & Williams, P.C., to conduct an independent investigation of the school's culture and district policies following the rape. The Office of Civil Rights requires an independent investigation after an event like the one in December, and the board voted Thursday night to release the report, which was previously sealed under attorney-client privilege.
Hamilton County school board Chairman Jonathan Welch said he hopes the release of the report will be the first step in restoring confidence in the school system.
"I hope the findings of this investigation and the recommendations will give Dr. [Kirk] Kelly and his team a roadmap as we begin to move forward and refocus our priorities on safety and student achievement," he said.
The 24-page report includes 22 recommendations to help prevent future incidents and calls the district and Ooltewah High School's training on hazing "deficient."
Kelly, Hamilton County Schools interim superintendent, said the report offers an opportunity to provide better support and safety for all students moving forward.
"The recommendations will serve as a guide to provide ongoing monitoring and development of best practices," he said. " I believe we will be better positioned in the future by having taken the right training path, creating greater awareness of appropriate behavior and encouraging the sharing of timely information."
The report also details how Ooltewah High School's former Principal Jim Jarvis and former Athletic Director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley failed to appropriately handle the situation following the rape in Gatlinburg, Tenn., just days before Christmas last year.
In May, district leaders reassigned Jarvis to an assistant principal position at East Hamilton Middle/High School, and weeks later, he requested a leave of absence, which was granted. During a leave of absence, employees typically cash in on their accrued sick leave, vacation time and personal days and, if being compensated by the district for these things, continue to receive benefits.
The district will not reconsider it's decision to continue employing Jarvis because of the report, according to Stacy Stewart, assistant superintendent of human resources.
"This report is not going to change how we manage personnel decisions at all," she said.
Nayadley resigned from the school system in July.
'A culture of hazing'
Bullard spent seven weeks investigating Ooltewah High School, walking the halls and interviewing 40 parents, teachers, students and administrators. She said during her investigation school and district employees fully cooperated with requests for information and interviews.
The team's head coach, Andre "Tank" Montgomery, who is facing charges of failure to report child sexual abuse in the case, refused to speak with Bullard, as did volunteer assistant coach Karl Williams.
Fifteen players participated in interviews, and many of them described "racking in," which the report says happened for about a month during the fall basketball season.
Players described "racking in" as upperclassmen turning off the lights in the locker room and punching freshman with their fists from the neck down, according to the report.
"One player stated that they were 'hit hard to the point you want to fight,'" the report states. It continues to say, "players did not report the behavior because they did not want to be a 'snitch' and they did not want it to get worse."
She said a culture of hazing and bullying existed on the team during the 2015-2016 season, but she did not find a culture of sexual harassment.
Three upperclassmen on the team told Bullard that "racking in" also happened to them when they were freshman. Bullard was limited in her investigation to the 2015-2016 season, but said without expanding her investigation she could only conclude that it's "highly likely" it had been occurring for at least three years under Montgomery's watch.
Parents, players and administrators described Montgomery and Williams as mentors and father figures to their players, saying the coaches had the players' best interests at heart, according to the report.
But some players also said Montgomery behaved more like a friend than an authority figure, and Williams was more of the disciplinarian, the investigation found.
Bullard said despite the coaches' efforts to address the horseplay, they "were not effective."
The report states Montgomery likely knew about the "excessive horseplay" because: His office was adjacent to the boys' locker room where the "racking in" took place, and it's unlikely he didn't hear the boys making noise in the locker room.
One player said he walked in several times during the incidents and that players talking about "the rack" in front of coaches.
At one point, the boys' "excessive horseplay" broke a TV in the locker room.
Players reported instances of little to no supervision during the time after school ended at 2:30 p.m. and before practice began at 4 p.m.
During the course of the investigation, Bullard also investigated the school's football program, but only four players agreed to participate. From these interviews, she concluded the team did not have a culture of hazing, bullying or sexual harassment.
The night the team arrived in Gatlinburg on Dec. 19 for a basketball tournament, the older players dunked the four freshman into a hot tub, according to the report. The next night, the older players began poking pool cues against freshmen's rectums.
Bullard said all four freshman were held down by two older players, allowing for another to poke them in the rectum, indicating that the assailants had the intent to bully, haze and sexually harass the victims.
"The contact was unwanted, offensive and had the purpose or effect of intimidation and embarrassment," the report states. "The victims had responses indicative of victims of sexual harassment that can be characterized as shame, anger, embarrassment, confusion, humiliation and disgust."
There is no evidence the school system or Ooltewah administrators knew or should have known this would happen, the report states.
Three nights later, on Dec. 22, one freshman was assaulted with the pool cue so severely he required hospitalization and emergency surgery.
Following the rape, Bullard's report says Jarvis and Nayadley failed to appropriately handle the situation and did not contact the families of the other freshman and allowed the team to play the next day.
The pair did not violate Hamilton County Schools or Ooltewah High School procedure, according to the report, but they did not "exercise appropriate judgment."
Jarvis made the decision allowing the boys to continue playing in the tournament the morning after the rape, which was largely based on reports received from Nayadley, according to the report.
"Mr. Nayadley felt the players were ready to play and wanted to play," the report states. "None of the players interviewed stated that they wanted to play."
By allowing the boys to play, Nayadley may have sent a message to the freshman players that this conduct was acceptable, Bullard said.
Upon returning home, Montgomery and Williams coached the team for several more games before former Superintendent Rick Smith canceled the season on Jan. 6.
Parents of players on the team voiced frustration at the lack of response from Ooltewah High School and the school district after the incident, and Bullard said "there was no concerted, organized effort [by administrators] to reach out to the families."
Looking at Ooltewah High School outside of this incident, Bullard said the environment is positive, "and there is certainly more good than bad happening within the school."
During the investigation, Bullard also examined district-wide policies and procedures, along with their implementation.
She determined the school system's Olweus Bullying and Prevention Program "provides in-depth instruction on identifying, preventing and responding to bullying, and this program was utilized at Ooltewah High School." The report says the entire staff was trained in the program before the start of school in 2015.
The school system also made significant efforts to combat bullying, but according to the report, schools are not required to use the Olweus training, so Bullard could not confirm that all schools are receiving adequate training.
But, the school system and Ooltewah High School's "training on hazing are deficient," according to the report.
The report also states that it was difficult to determine what is being done by the district to meet the requirements of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting against sex discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual violence at schools.
"Efforts towards training on sex- and gender-based harassment, including obligations of the school district in responding to those complaints under Title IX, are inadequate in some areas, disjointed in others and overall in need of improvement," the report states.
The report provides 22 recommendations for change, and the district said it is already taking action to fulfill some.
The recommendations include: Providing and mandating training to all central office and school administrators on Title IX, and training all staff regarding prohibited behavior and repercussions for failure to report incidents of this misbehavior.
Expanding educational efforts on bullying and cyber-bullying.
Designating a Title IX coordinator and defining their role, and resourcing them with proper training, support and authority.
Ensuring that Title IX situations are clearly documented, and maintain appropriate complaint logs and records of all reports and steps taken to eliminate, prevent and address the effects of the prohibited conduct.
Training guidance counselors on victim services.
Training all school resource offices and school board members on Title IX obligations.
Reviewing disciplinary and grievance procedures to ensure that are consistent with the law and guidance.
Ensuring all athletics' personnel, including volunteer coaches, are appropriately trained.
Creating and maintaining a zero tolerance culture for prohibited behaviors.
Clarifying the roles and responsibilities of athletic directors in handling reports of prohibited behavior within athletics.
Developing procedures and protocol for addressing incidents that may occur on overnight trips, and how to respond.
Provide detailed periodic reports to the school board regarding the implementation of the recommendations.
At a news conference Friday, school board member Steve Highlander, who represents Ooltewah, thanked Bullard for the investigation and recommendations, and said he is confident Kelly's team and the board are working to implement them.
"And we want to ensure there is transparency and accountability in the future," he said.
School board member David Testerman was also at the news conference Friday and blamed the rape of the freshman on the "media and the influence of violence in our culture."
Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.