Seven Pojoaque Valley High School senior football players are being investigated by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office after allegations of hazing this past week.
School district officials orginally gave the players short-term suspensions for 10 days and barred them from extracurricular activity, including playing in Friday’s homecoming game against Thoreau. But after District Court Judge Matthew Wilson granted a temporary restraining order Friday against the district in favor of two of the players, district superintendent Sondra Adams relinquished the punishment against all of the accused.
School officials said the district “vehemently disagrees” with the judge’s decision.
The players were originally suspended without a due-process hearing, Wilson noted in his ruling.
In his ruling, Wilson wrote, “The Court also believes that the School District is required to conduct at least an informal hearing under the circumstances advising the plaintiff of the allegations and giving the plaintiff the chance to respond or appeal for leniency before the opportunity to receive an education is denied through a lengthy suspension.”
Original complaints came in anonymously on Monday via the district’s anti-bullying application and while district officials conducted an investigation, it also called in the sheriff’s department because of the serious nature of the allegations.
The seniors were accused of forcibly pulling down the pants of as many as 11 freshman players and touching their private parts.
An unnamed Elks football coach testified “that he has been present at all times in the high school locker room when the football team was changing for practice and games. The coach stated he did not see any inappropriate behavior in the locker room,” according to Wilson’s ruling.
Under the judge’s ruling, the accused players are not permitted to be in the locker room with the rest of the team.
The matter will return to Wilson’s court Wednesday as he determines the status of the order.
It was not known immediately if those senior players did in fact play Friday against Thoreau, a game the Elks won 50-0. Pojoaque Valley head coach Pat Mares declined to comment.
“We are extremely disappointed that the judge ruled the students should be allowed to return,” according to a news release distributed by the district, noting the district was not notified of the Friday morning hearing until late Thursday.
“PVSD attended the hearing to request a continuance to allow the District adequate time to prepare and, in the interest of student safety, to object to the return of the students,” the release said. “We are also concerned that the ruling extends due process rights for temporary student suspensions, beyond what is set out in the law, and so seriously undermines and limits the legal tools available to schools to enforce discipline and protect students. Pojoaque Valley School District vehemently disagrees with (Friday’s) ruling.”
No one has been charged in the case, according to a news release from the sheriff’s department, which has already interviewed a number of the freshman players.
“PVSD believes it has a duty to ensure the safety of all students and when necessary, as was the case here, must take immediate action to fulfill that duty,” the school district release said.
Friday’s ruling “limits the PVSD’s options and potentially places students at risk of harm. PVSD’s actions to suspend some students were properly taken to ensure the health and safety of the entire student body, including the suspended students,” it additionally said. “Unfortunately, the court has tied the hands of the district and has placed unnecessary restrictions on the actions it can take to protect the students of PVSD.”