PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – A high school let its dance team haze a freshman by forcing her to wrestle in a tarp filled with maple syrup and oatmeal, and condoned that and the avalanche of bullying she faced when she reported it, the girl claims in court.
The Doe family sued the Lake Oswego School District, in an affluent suburb south of Portland, five school administrators and a volunteer, on March 6 in Federal Court.
Child Doe says the hazing happened at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego.
Her parents say they moved their family to Lake Oswego from another state so that their daughter and son could attend Lakeridge, which touted the excellence of its education.
After winning a spot on the dance team in June 2014, Doe says, she attended three required events: a “team bonding trip” to the Oregon coast, an overnight “initiation” in Lake Oswego, and a “mandatory boot camp” in Sunriver, Ore.
During the beach trip on June 28, Doe says, she was forced to participate in a “sharing experience” at which other team members described “highly offensive sexual activities, using sexually explicit language (too crude to include here),” according to the complaint.
Defendants Kayla Nordlum, the dance team’s 24-year-old coach, and assistant coach Ashley Nordlum “encouraged and approved the humiliating conversations,” Doe says, despite earlier assurances to Doe’s parents that such things would not happen during the trip.
Afterward, Nordlum abandoned Doe in Seaside, “without a ride home,” according to the complaint.
During the Aug. 9 “team initiation,” senior members of the team organized “activities intended to humiliate, endanger, harass, assault and batter the rest of the team members,” the lawsuit states.
Doe says team members took her cell phone, dressed her in a “humiliating costume,” blindfolded her and drove into downtown Lake Oswego.
Doe says seniors forced underclassmen to pull pieces of paper out of a hat, each slip dictating embarrassing behavior they had to do, such as dance on tables, kiss strange men and yell obscenities in a restaurant.
One restaurant called the police and filed a complaint.
That night, Doe says, senior team members drove her to a field at Lakeridge High School, where the team met with 25 to 30 intoxicated high school students who were there to harass and humiliate her and the other underclassmen on the team.
After being pelted with water balloons, Doe says, she and her young teammates had to strip down to the bikinis they had been ordered to wear under their clothes, then were forced to wrestle on a tarp covered in maple syrup and oatmeal, while the drunk students tossed feathers on them.
Doe says that she and her young teammates “were forced to dance with and for male students.”
Then hazing continued at the Willamette River, where they were forced into the water and then told that if they wanted a ride home they had to chase the seniors’ cars, barefoot, according to the complaint.
Doe claims that both dance coaches, as well as school principal Jennifer Schiele and the dance team’s public relations volunteer Suzanne Young knew about the hazing did nothing to stop it.
“Similar traditional initiation activities have happened in the district and at Lakeridge High School for years and [defendants] have not done anything to prevent them from continuing,” Doe says in the lawsuit.
She says she was “blindfolded, harassed, assaulted, physically harmed, bullied, intimidated, afraid, humiliated, abused, and sexually harassed all with the knowledge and consent of the district, Schiele, Nordlum, and Ashley.”
Doe says she reported the hazing to the team’s technique coach two days later. She says she “specifically indicated that she was talking to the technique coach about the events not to hurt the team but because she did not want to go through anything like August 9 again.”
The (nonparty) technique coach reported the hazing the next day to Nordlum and Ian Lamont, the school’s athletic director, according to the complaint.
Doe says her name “was only revealed to Lamont at that time so as not to provide anyone at Lakeridge High School with an opportunity to retaliate against her. Nordlum was not told Doe Child’s name and she was very upset and angry about this.”
On Aug. 24, the first night of the team’s five-day boot camp in Sunriver, team members slept six to a room. Nordlum duct-taped the doors shut, according to the lawsuit, and claimed she did it to prevent the girls from sneaking out.
Nordlum and the assistant coach demanded that team members shut their eyes and go on a “trust walk” in the dark, Doe claims. Eventually, the team ended up in a circle, where Nordlum demanded that they share personal, sensitive and dramatic stories that plaintiff says were “inappropriate for a coach without any special training to discuss with high school kids.”
Later, Nordlum divided the girls by grade level and questioned them about the Aug. 9 initiation event. Doe claims this was an obvious attempt to determine who had talked to the technique coach about the night. She says it was apparent that Nordlum knew that she had talked and that Nordlum made that clear to the rest of the team.
From Sunriver, Doe says, Nordlum texted the technique coach and said there had been no hazing on Aug. 9 and that the 14-year-old girl who claimed it had, was a liar.
Nordlum demanded to know the name of the girl who had talked to the technique coach and threatened to fire the coach if she did not give Nordlum that information, Doe says.
The technique coach quit, according to the complaint.
On the final day of the Sunriver trip, Nordlum allegedly emailed Doe’s mother, threatening to suspend the girl if she said anything more about the hazing incident.
“I need to address something that has caused a lot of havoc that I think you may know something about,” the email said, according to the 47-page lawsuit. “The details that we hear you are saying happened at initiation are not true and I’m pretty upset that for one you would believe I would allow something like that to happen and for two that you would go to everyone and talk about it. It has made me feel very upset and I don’t understand why you would spread something like this about my team without coming directly to me with your concern. That is one thing I ask of all of my parents. … I hope I don’t hear anything more about this night from anyone else but you, but if I do it could result in some sort of suspension for [Doe Child]. It isn’t fair to my team and I won’t have it.”
The team then launched a campaign of harassment and bullying against Doe, online and in person, the family says.
They claim that Nordlum removed the girl plaintiff from the jazz competition team without warning, then refused to allow her to perform during the homecoming game. They claim that defendant Young posted derogatory comments on Facebook about plaintiff’s mother, who is Brazilian-American.
The girl says the harassment and bullying forced her to quit the team.
The Lake Oswego School District asked the Hungerford Law Firm to investigate the events, but refused to provide a copy of the firm’s report to plaintiff, the lawsuit states. Finally, the defendants refused to reprimand Nordlum or any of the senior team members, but lavished them with gifts and constant support, according to the complaint.
The family seeks damages and punitive damages on 14 causes of action, including retaliation, child abuse, failure to report child abuse, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision, hazing, and civil rights violations.
They also want the district to fire both Kayla and Ashley Nordlum and keep them from working or volunteering at any school in the district, and Young prevented from volunteering at any school in the district.
They also seek a court order requiring the district to implement “mandatory and effective training programs with measurable results” for faculty, students, coaches and volunteers on bullying and hazing, including assemblies and districtwide policies.
And they want the district to maintain data covering each complaint of hazing, bullying, impingement of freedom of speech and retaliation, along with steps it takes to resolve each situation.
They are represented by Leta Gorman and Shelly Damore with Jordan Ramis in Lake Oswego.
- In the Garden