HAMMER: ‘I have the right to be mad’
BY MATT WILSON
MISSION — Public unrest over the handling of a hazing incident allegedly involving Pioneer High swimmers in November exploded into full-blown fury at a Sharyland school board meeting Monday evening, when close to a dozen people levied allegations of abuse and administrative cover-ups.
Monday’s meeting was filled with community members, students, district staff and parents, many of whom expressed concern over the incident in question and allegations of previous incidents that are similar in nature.
Some in the audience were openly hostile to the board, heckling and jeering them. “How dare you,” some yelled. “Shame on you,” others shouted.
Speakers commenting in favor of the board were booed.
“I saw that you guys have a lot of trophies for attendance; do you guys get trophies for sexual harassment on your campus, too,” Zitlalit Melgarejo, a Sharyland High alum, asked the board.
Melgarejo said the district’s handling of the incident in November and of previous allegations of abuse prompted her to speak at the meeting.
“I’m too mad, and I have the right to be mad,” she told the school board.
Trustees have deferred comment to Superintendent Maria Vidaurri, who did not comment Monday.
The outrage is the latest of increasingly volatile reactions — especially on social media — from students and parents upon publication of The Monitor’s report last Tuesday confirming a Corpus Christi and Mission police investigation into what local authorities described as an “inappropriate” hazing incident involving the Pioneer swim team. The incident is believed to have occurred during a trip to Corpus Christi for an athletic competition last semester.
Mission police clarified its involvement in the case as an assisting agency.
Sources with knowledge of the case — speaking on the condition of anonymity for either fear of retaliation or because they’re not authorized to divulge details — have characterized the hazing as sexually abusive in nature.
On Friday, Vidaurri condemned online speculation in a statement issued to the media, calling some information published on social media “reckless with regard to the privacy and well-being of individual(s).”
One Facebook post displayed a photo of a Pioneer student accused of being involved in the incident. This generated thousands of reactions from individuals calling for the student’s arrest and the termination of the individual’s father, an administrator.
At Monday’s meeting, Alejandro Rodriguez of Mission called for those involved in the hazing to be “dealt with in a swift and just manner.”
“… If there’s been a case of coaches, of administrators, even our superintendent — if there’s been a case of anybody covering this up or trying to sweep it under the rug, those folks should at the very minimum be fired and let the criminal justice system deal with them,” Rodriguez said during public comment.
Rodriguez also cited what he described as a pattern of secrecy in the district.
“It seems that in the past, for some reason, Sharyland has a history of covering things up,” he said. “I understand insulation, I understand trying to keep things in-house — I respect that. But when you get to allegations of this seriousness, we just cannot put up with any kind of incident of this sort.”
Melissa Gaona, a Sharyland ISD parent, said news of the incident makes her fear for her son and other students.
“I have a freshman at Sharyland High School and I’m afraid for his safety, and I don’t think there’s being enough done to protect these kids,” she said. “These incidents we’re discussing happened on your watch. We deserve answers; people want to know.”
Like many of Monday’s speakers, Gaona also called for transparency.
“You can try to silence the kids, but you can’t silence the parents. We’re not gonna allow that.”
Rolando Garcia, whose children and grandchildren are enrolled or previously attended Sharyland schools, told trustees that Monday was the first time he had felt compelled to attend a board meeting.
“I never felt the need to come to a school board meeting because I always felt that the people that we elect were good enough and competent enough to take care of us,” he said. “I had a lot of things that I thought I wanted to say, but most everybody here has already said it. The only thing that I can tell you all is that if you don’t do your job, you’re gonna be replaced.”
Garcia’s comment was met with applause from the audience.