Seven Pojoaque Valley High School football players were allowed to participate in their homecoming game Friday against Thoreau after the school district temporarily halted disciplinary actions against them amid a Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office investigation into allegations of hazing.
A heavily redacted incident report released Friday afternoon by the sheriff’s office said an anonymous person reported to the school that seniors had been pulling down freshman teammates’ pants and touching their “private parts.”
Several freshmen also told investigators the senior players had been hazing them during football practice, the report said.
Parents of four of the players had filed requests for temporary restraining orders in state District Court this week to block 10-day suspensions of the students, and one player filed for an order on his own behalf. Court hearings on the matter were scheduled Friday for three of the plaintiffs.
Pojoaque Valley School District Superintendent Sondra Adams decided to let all seven seniors play in the Friday night game, however, after a state district judge granted the guardians of two players a temporary restraining order earlier in the day. The order prevented the district from continuing to enforce the suspensions, which started Tuesday.
Judge Matthew Wilson said in his ruling the two students were entitled to a hearing on the hazing complaints and suspensions, which they did not receive, and Pojoaque Valley School District did not indicate it was planning to hold a hearing.
Wilson set a court hearing at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday to determine the status of his order.
Roxie De Santiago, an attorney for the school district, informed state District Judge Bryan Biedscheid of the superintendent’s decision to halt all of the suspensions during a court hearing Friday for a third Pojoaque football player seeking a restraining order.
“It would not be fair to treat one student differently than the others when they are all in the same boat,” De Santiago said.
In a statement Friday afternoon, the district expressed disappointment in Wilson’s ruling, saying it could have long-term effects in how schools mete out short-term discipline.
“We are also concerned that the ruling extends due process rights for temporary student suspensions, beyond what is set out in the law, and so seriously undermines and limits the legal tools available to schools to enforce discipline and protect students,” the statement said.
Adams said the district only allows for appeals of suspensions longer than 10 days. But, she added, it will abide by the court’s ruling, and she planned to ensure homecoming events for the weekend would commence without any trouble.
“We have a football game to put on [Friday night], we have a dance tomorrow and we have a lot of kids who are looking forward to that,” Adams said.
Wilson’s ruling was in favor of parent Christina Olivas and grandparent Elaine Esquibel. Wilson also ruled the players accused of hazing will have to dress in a locker room separate from the rest of the team, some of whom are involved in the investigation.
The sheriff’s office report said the school district learned of the allegation through its anti-bullying reporting app.
Adams said the district has since received multiple reports through the app related to the investigation.
According to the sheriff’s office report, District Safety Director Gary Johnson and Pojoaque Middle School Discipline Officer Theodore Lovato interviewed several freshmen, who identified the seven seniors as the instigators.
Johnson told investigators that rumors indicated some of the football players knew who reported the allegations and could be planning retaliation. No players would be left unsupervised on the field or in the locker room, he said, according to the report.
The report states the investigation is ongoing and will be forwarded to the Criminal Investigations Division of the sheriff’s office.
Five seniors who testified during the court hearing Friday said they did not take part in any hazing, nor did they witness any hazing during football-related activities.
Pojoaque assistant coach Juan Martinez also testified on behalf of the plaintiffs, saying he was not aware of any hazing, especially in the locker room. He said he monitors the room before and after every practice and game, in accordance with district policy.
Jerry Archuleta, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said keeping the players from participating in the homecoming game, forcing them to miss school days and preventing them from participating in homecoming festivities would cause them harm.
Many of his clients are already struggling to communicate with teachers to collect assignments they need to complete, the attorney said.
Adams said they would have ample opportunity to make up any missed classwork.
Archuleta said the players have good reputations among their peers and at the school and that the stain of the hazing allegations could impact their ability to obtain athletic or academic scholarships.
“This will affect their reputation,” Archuleta said. “This will negate any of the hard work they put into to get to the level they are at.”