DeKalb County suspends all marching band activities

5:27 PM, Dec 16, 2011   |    comments
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STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- Within 24 hours of announcing a district-wide band suspension, a DeKalb County Schools spokesperson says a number of parents have requested the district look into other incidents as well.

Walter Woods, spokesman for DeKalb County Schools, told 11Alive News that district officials have taken calls from parents since Wednesday's announcement, some upset over the suspension, others bringing forth new incidents to investigate.

Woods did not know exactly how many parents called, or how many of those were new complaints.

Wednesday afternoon, DeKalb County Schools announced that all marching band activities would be suspended until further notice while the district looks into "possible inappropriate activities." 

The move means at least two DeKalb County students will miss out on a possible $21,000 scholarship.

Southwest DeKalb High School and Stephenson High School were both invited to participate in this Sunday's drumline competition during the Georgia High School Senior All-Star Bowl, to be held at the Georgia Dome. During the event, Alabama State University band director Dr. James Oliver will offer $21,000 to a student from each participating drumline, to cover four years room and board at Alabama State.

Though nominated by their own band director, students must participate in this Sunday's competition to receive the scholarship. Event organizer LaToya Benford said both schools confirmed their attendance and were listed in the program.

Wednesday afternoon, Oliver received an email from Stephenson band director Quentin Goins, informing him the school's drumline would have to pull out of the competition due to "circumstances beyond our control."

"It's a pretty bad situation that they won't have the opportunity to receive this money," Oliver said.

He noted January through April is prime recruiting season for college band directors.

After watching scandal unfold at Florida A&M, DeKalb County's School Superintendent has shut down all 21 high school marching bands while investigators try to find out if hazing exists in any of DeKalb's high school marching band programs, and, if it does, how deep it goes.

Thursday morning, the district began the arduous task of interviewing every director, assistant director, student, teacher, parent and principal associated with any of DeKalb's 21 bands.

"We've documented at least one incident that happened over the summer," at one school, and it just came to light, Woods said. But he said that the incident was "inappropriate behavior," not hazing. The investigation is underway, he said, to find out if anything worse is going on.

"We don't know if anything inappropriate has happened here [at any other schools], but we need to ensure that our students are safe," Woods said. 

Woods said the district would look at performance suspensions on a case-by-case basis. Four schools have been allowed to participate in next month's Martin Luther King Day parade, an appearance scheduled before the suspension.

As news of the suspension spread Wednesday, parents and students had mixed reactions.

"[Hazing's] not going on here, I'm very close to the band, I love the program here," said a band parent at Southwest DeKalb, Billy Jones, who is certain the program is free of hazing.

"Things that don't belong here are not here" at the school, Jones said.

A former Southwest DeKalb band member who is now a Senior attending a different DeKalb County high school, who asked that his name not be used, said Wednesday evening that once, two older students with Southwest DeKalb's band repeatedly punched him in the chest for a minor infraction.

"I have had complications of breathing from this particular hazing incident," he said. "The section leader, he proceeded, he punched me in the chest. And they were saying this is how you get your fraternity letters in this band, you go through stuff like this."

He said other times he was threatened with a mace and a paddle. He did not report any of it to anyone, he said, out of fear that no one would believe him.

Back at Southwest DeKalb High School, another former band member, Karissa Mitchell, said, "No, not at all," when asked if there's been hazing. "I love the band. Just because one parent complained I don't think they should shut down all [band programs at] DeKalb County schools. It's not fair."

"I think that in light of what happened at FAMU, if they think that there are any kind of connections, that it's a good idea" to suspend band activities and investigate, said Rodney Ragin, a band parent and member of the PTSA Executive Board at Southwest DeKalb. "The only thing that they're doing is investigating. Since I've been here I haven't seen any indication of hazing, at all."

Robert Champion, the FAMU drum major who died last month due to suspected hazing, was an alumni of Southwest DeKalb High School. Another Southwest DeKalb alum is suing over alleged hazing in FAMU's Marching 100 band. At least one of three FAMU band members arrested for hazing this week also went to the same high school.

Woods said the investigation will last at least 30 days, but could take longer than two months.

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