La Vernia High School begins new school year with new hope

Changes made in wake of hazing scandal involving student-athletes

By Josh Skurnik - Reporter

LA VERNIA, Texas - As the bells rang Wednesday on the first day of school at La Vernia High School, parents and students have high hopes for changes made at the campus after the community was rocked last school year by a sexual assault hazing scandal.

Thirteen former student athletes are still awaiting formal charges for the alleged sexual assaults of younger athletes during hazing incidents going back to 2014, according to the La Vernia police chief.
               
The changes by district staff and the superintendent focus on the safety and well-being of students.

RELATED: Civil case over alleged hazing at La Vernia ISD postponed

Just down the road from the campus, students packed Sammy's Mexican Restaurant, where the changes were the subject of conversation.

"I think they're trying, they're trying to make an effort," Austin Franchinni, a junior, said.

"That's basically what it's about. Having to deal with it," Franchinni's grandfather, Jose Rodriguez, said.

In response to the scandal, the district has a revamped 24-hour online bully reporting system that students can access with their cellphones.

Officials also adopted a program called "Rachel's Challenge," which will teach students about kindness and updated the student code of conduct.

There's more training for staff with a focus on child advocacy and the high school hired another school counselor.

RELATED: Here's what we know about the La Vernia hazing lawsuit

Arguably the most visible addition is a 32-year veteran of the La Vernia Police Department, who is patrolling the high school campus every day, a practice that started last school year after the scandal broke.

"I mean that's pretty intimidating, no one's going to want to do something like that again," Franchinni said.

"I think it's kind of silly what they've done. But then again it kind of had to be done," Kyndall Robinson, a sophomore, said. "The police officer having to sit in on our lunch (break). I just think that was kind of, like, like just watching over us."

Stuart Leyendecker, who graduated from La Vernia High School in 2011, thinks the district should have gone further with security.

"Maybe having an additional police officer, there, to actually be able to handle the growing school, will probably be a little bit helpful," Leyendecker said. "But with what they've done, they're going in the right direction to change all this."

Students and parents hope that the changes will bring a sense of normalcy at the school.

"If people use it in the right way, I think the bullying system will help, because a lot of people do get bullied, and people don't know about it," Kyndall said.

"I think the community has really come together to support the kiddos," Kyndall's mother, Amy Gray, said.

None of the former student athletes returned to school this year.

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