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Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Thursday, February 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Syrup & Feathers Hazing Lawsuit Whittled Down

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - A volunteer worker was excused from some charges in a lawsuit from a high school freshman who claimed the dance team forced her to wrestle on a tarp covered with maple syrup, feathers and oatmeal.

Taissa and Ray Achcar-Winkels in March sued Lake Oswego School District, an affluent suburb south of Portland, three top administrators, two dance coaches and a volunteer.

Last week a federal judge dismissed the volunteer from the seven charges against her, but the other defendants, including the superintendent, principal, athletic director and two dance coaches, must face the 20 charges listed in the amended lawsuit.

The Achcar-Winkel family moved to Lake Oswego from another state so their son and daughter, S.A., could attend Lakeridge, which touted the excellence of its education.

S.A. won a spot on the dance team in May 2014, and 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, the family says, S.A. was forced to participate in a "sharing experience" during which other team members described "highly offensive sexual activities, using sexually explicit language (too crude to include here)." (Parentheses in complaint.)

The family claims defendants Kayla Nordlum, the dance team's 24-year-old coach, and assistant coach Ashley Nordlum "encouraged and approved the humiliating conversations," despite assurances that such things would not happen during the trip.

Nordlum then abandoned S.A. in Seaside, "without a ride home," the lawsuit states. Seaside is 84 miles from Lake Oswego.

During a "team initiation" in August, senior team members organized "activities intended to humiliate, endanger, harass, assault and batter the rest of the team members," the Achcar-Winkels added.

They claim team members took S.A.'s cell phone, dressed her in a "humiliating costume," blindfolded her and drove to downtown Lake Oswego.

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 or yell obscenities in a restaurant.

One restaurant called the police and filed a complaint.

The same night, the Achcar-Winkels claim, senior team members drove S.A. 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.

After being pelted with water balloons, S.A. and her young teammates had to strip down to the bikinis they had been ordered to wear under their clothes and were forced to wrestle on a tarp covered in maple syrup and oatmeal, while the drunk students tossed feathers on them.

S.A. and her young teammates "were forced to dance with and for male students," the lawsuit adds.

The 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.

Both dance coaches, the school principal Jennifer Schiele and the dance team's public relations volunteer Suzanne Young knew about the hazing did nothing to stop it, the Achcar-Winkels claim.

After S.A. reported the hazing, Young "posted comments about plaintiff mother (who is of Brazilian descent) on Facebook and sent harassing texts to her. Young has publicly called plaintiff parents and S.A. liars," the lawsuit states.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart recommended in August that Young, who managed finances and public relations for the team, be partially dismissed from the lawsuit.

Young had filed a motion to dismiss seven claims against her in the first amended complaint, including violation of equal protection based on gender, civil rights violations, hazing, intentional infliction of emotional distress, child abuse, failure to report child abuse and retaliation.

The Achcar-Winkels then filed a second and third amended complaint which included the family name and the parent's identities.

Judge Stewart found that the Achar-Winkels did not allege sufficient facts to establish that Young, as a volunteer, was acting under color of law.

The Achcar-Winkels did not allege that S.A. was treated differently than her male peers "in any respect," nor state a substantive due process claim against Young, or allege that Young was present during or had any involvement in the hazing events.

"Plaintiffs do not allege that Young knew that S.A. would be subject to harm during those events, knew that anyone intended to or was likely to harm S.A. during the events, or that Young provided or procured an opportunity for S.A. to be harmed," Stewart wrote her Aug. 21 findings and recommendations.

"Plaintiffs allege only that Young 'knew and approved of the events; held by the dance team generally, and that she 'knew or should have known about the activities' at initiation."

Stewart granted leave to replead hazing and retaliation as negligence claims against Young.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman agreed last week.

"While the level of scrutiny under which I am required to review the F&R [findings and recommendations] depends on whether or not objections have been filed, in either case, I am free to accept, reject, or modify any part of the F&R," Mosman wrote in her Sept. 16 order . "Upon review, I agree with Judge Stewart's recommendation and I adopt the F&R as my own opinion."

Mosman dismissed with prejudice the claims against Young for hazing, child abuse, failure to report child abuse, and retaliation; and dismissed without prejudice and with leave to amend the claims for equal protection, substantive due process, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Mosman dismissed with prejudice sua sponte claims against all defendants for hazing, child abuse and retaliation.

None of the parties could be reached for comment Friday.

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