Plano High School works to build sense of security after alleged hazing incidents
By Steve Lord firstname.lastname@example.org September 10, 2013 12:36PM
Plano hs-front entrance: The familiar front entrance to Plano High School is the only place people can enter the building. | Steve Lord~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 12, 2013 6:23AM
PLANO — Eric Benson can imagine what Plano High School football players will hear from players on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Or, perhaps from the stands. Or even over social media.
If the principal of Plano High School needed a reminder, he got it Monday when a teacher pointed out a Facebook posting that made it to a student’s page.
“It was just appalling,” Benson said.
The comments were about the incident that took place last February at the high school, where four students held down another, while a fifth student penetrated the student with his finger. The incident resulted in a seven-month investigation that ended in charges of criminal sexual assault, aggravated battery and unlawful restraint against five offenders under the age of 17 at the time.
The investigation also turned up incidents that happened more than a year ago, and the possibility that some other similar incidents happened even before that. The situations were possibly hazing that took place for both the basketball and football teams.
The situation also has resulted in a lawsuit, filed by the parent of the victim against both the school district and the parents of one of the offenders.
All of the students involved no longer attend Plano High School, which means none of those students lining up for Plano’s football team were part of the incidents. But they will hear about it, just the same.
Because the original incident happened in February, Benson said many of the changes made at the school involving better security and supervision were done last spring. That was when the school set up an email hotline for parents to ask questions.
Benson said overall, he has gotten about 10 inquiries on the email hotline, and about 10 more phone calls. He thinks parents and community members are satisfied with changes the high school has made.
He pointed out that participation in athletics this fall is higher than ever before, with about 30 to 40 more students participating than the year before. He said more than 200 kids are involved in fall sports, which is about one-third of the students at the school.
In all, Plano has about 64 percent of its kids participating in extracurricular activities of some kind, much higher than the state average.
“So I do think the kids are comfortable, and want to be involved,” he said.
After the news broke more widely two weeks ago, Benson offered publicly to take any interested parents on a tour of the school to see the security measures and tour the facilities. Only The Beacon-News took him up on it.
The hallways have cameras, which were originally installed as security devices. Benson pointed to one camera near a door to the outside, and said it originally was aimed at the door as a security measure.
“It was more concerned with security than supervision,” he said. “Last year, myself and our security person walked through the entire building, and we got the cameras aimed for better supervision.”
The school has two, 360-degree cameras on order for the cafeteria, and is adding a “movement-driven” security system also on order, Benson said.
The school adjusted its workers to add a third shift, so “we now have people in the building basically 24-7,” Benson said.
Part of the problem with locker room supervision was the way the school was added onto seven years ago, Benson said. He said the changes took some of the coaches’ offices out of the locker room area.
So, Benson said officials have made sure there are always coaches in the locker rooms when they are open, and made sure the locker rooms are always locked when no one is there.
“The coaches do a good job of supporting each other,” he said. “Someone is always supervising.”
One simple measure taken was adding mirrors in the corners of the ceiling in both the physical education and sports locker rooms, so no corners are ever hidden from view, Benson said.
Benson, who has been principal at Plano for three years, said his staff has gotten better at understanding the difference between hazing, bullying and harassment. There is more awareness, which he said should help students be more comfortable sharing situations with staff.
“Students have to feel that comfort, that this adult is someone they can share with,” he said.