WOODLAND HILLS — Four students at Taft High School have been suspended for their alleged roles in hazing involving the boys' volleyball team, officials confirmed Wednesday.
The suspensions came in addition to the transfers announced Tuesday of six staff members, including the principal and volleyball coach, for failure to report hazing.
Principal Sharon Thomas and five others were reassigned from the Woodland Hills campus on Tuesday while the Los Angeles Unified District investigates whether they followed district policy in reporting suspected child abuse. Some parents said they are planning to rally in support of Thomas.
The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating whether there is a pattern of hazing at the school.
"These actions demonstrate our commitment to student safety. ... When it comes to the rights of adults vs. the safety of students, we always choose students," said David Holmquist, the district's chief operating officer.
District officials declined to reveal the names of the reassigned employees during the investigation but other district sources confirmed that the principal, dean Barbara Haskin, assistant principal Marc Strassner, volleyball coach Arman Mercado, teacher Lisa McKeon and campus police officer Malcolm Norrington were reassigned from their duties at Taft on Tuesday. None could be reached for comment.
LAUSD officials said the allegations of hazing came from 11 students who were involved in incidents that happened last fall. Officials declined to give details about the ongoing investigation, but students on campus Wednesday said the hazing may have involved suggestive acts with a sex toy.
Holmquist declined to release the names of the four students who were suspended or to elaborate on how long the suspensions would last.
He said the reassigned administrators would work on other duties during the investigation, per district policy. Failure to report a suspicion of child abuse could be cause for termination.
At the Woodland Hills campus, known for academic and athletic excellence, students said the matter should not mar the school's reputation.
"I've been at this school since freshman year, and I've never heard of stuff like this happening," said Taft senior Emil Shriz.
Some students said hazing may be expected on athletic teams, but all agreed that suggestive acts with a sex toy would be unacceptable.
Parents and teachers expressed their concern about removal of well-known and respected teachers.
After hearing that Thomas had been reassigned, some parents and former parents of Taft students said they would plan a rally in support of her. "I have two children who went to Taft, and if it wasn't for Ms. Thomas, my son would not have graduated," said parent Jessica Estrada.
Estrada said she's in touch with two dozen parents who are shocked and disappointed that the district is punishing Thomas.
Mark Drucker, Taft's athletic director, said he is also anxiously awaiting the return of his colleagues.
Drucker said it is often difficult for athletic coaches to monitor what students do on and off campus.
"I have not heard about stuff like this going on, but we don't assume to know everything that goes on," Drucker said.
"Kids do crazy things."
Stressing proper locker room conduct to student athletes can be a difficult task, Drucker explained.
"Professional athletes are supposed to be role models for student athletes," he said. "Have you seen what they are doing?"