LA VERNIA, Texas - It's the first day of school for the La Vernia Independent School District, and they begin the new year with a message of a fresh start.
Earlier this year, the small Texas town was rocked by a criminal investigation into the sexual assaults of younger athletes during hazing. Thirteen now-former student athletes, the majority of them football players, await formal charges.
The district is conducting an internal investigation to find out what its staff may have known. The La Vernia police chief said the sexual assaults go as far back as 2014, but a federal civil lawsuit alleges they go back even further.
La Vernia Independent School District superintendent Jose Moreno has stressed that the safety and well being of the kids returning is the number one priority.
“I’ve had many conversations with our staff, and not just through an email or a phone call but also a lot of face-to-face conversations because our staff cares about kids," Moreno said. "They need to know we are gonna be OK as an organization and moving forward. Our staff is excited about coming back.”
Students returning will find numerous changes designed for the welfare of the students.
Here's a look at some of the new policies implemented this year:
- The district updated the student code of conduct.
- A 32-year-veteran of the La Vernia Police Department will report to the high school every day and stay on campus. The district said his job is to know every child by "name and need."
- Additional training for staff focusing on child advocacy.
- The district adopted a national program called 'Rachel's Challenge' to help teach students about kindness.
- A revamped online bully reporting system for students can now be used with their cellphones.
- The high school also hired an additional school counselor to increase time with students.
La Vernia ISD hired eight teachers in the summer, as enrollment grew by 100 kids to more than 3,300 students.
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