HomeBrevard Public SchoolsCoverup? Viera High's own investigation reveals years of hazing incidents in the...

Coverup? Viera High’s own investigation reveals years of hazing incidents in the football program

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At the start of the school year, the Viera High School football team went viral for the wrong reasons. A video shared on social media showed what has been determined to be “hazing” by school officials. Others call it sexual assault.

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In the video, at least two victims, underclassmen, are being “danced on” or “humped” in the football locker room on August 14th, 2023, while under a lightning delay.

It wasn’t until we broke the story over the following weekend, on August 19th, that the school’s principal released a statement via email to parents. The statement was not well-received by the public.

Things began to happen quickly after that. The school held a closed-door meeting with parents of the football team to discuss the situation and the actions being taken. It was announced by School Board Chair Matt Susin that the head coach of the football team, Shane Staples had been fired from his position. However, since then, he has been seen on the field with the team during home and away games. He also maintains his teaching position with the school.

(Viera former Head Coach Shane Staples seen on the field September 15 at MCC game, and September 22 game in Baker County 2 hours away)

All football activities were suspended as an investigation took place. Players were required to watch a video on hazing, and then, only after two days had passed, were allowed to resume practice. Viera missed their first game as a result of the suspension, but Chair Matt Susin stated he felt that a forfeit was unacceptable. He assisted in brokering a deal with the other school to reimburse lost gate/ticket fees to avoid a forfeit and allow the game to be rescheduled at a later date.

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A criminal investigation was also initiated by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, which has since been turned over to the State Attorney’s Office for review. As of yet, no charges have been filed, and the status of the investigation is unknown. There have been no recent updates from the School District or law enforcement agencies on the matter.

At least three students received some sort of discipline for their roles in the incident. One of the victim’s mothers showed up at the September 7th School Board meeting and addressed the board over the handling of the matter. She also held a press conference and discussed how she felt that there was more concern over players getting back on the field than the criminal acts her son was a victim of. Her son has since transferred schools.

School Board Superintendent Dr. Mark Rendell addressed the incident at the same September 7th meeting. He stated that the school’s internal investigation revealed that this was an isolated incident and was not a culture problem within the program itself.

“The basic information is that it was an isolated incident. It was not a culture that was unhealthy, and that we could move forward,” Dr. Rendell stated to the public.

The unidentified victim’s mother challenged that statement when we asked her about it during the press conference. It appears her comments are correct, as the school’s own investigation revealed that this was not an isolated incident this year and is a practice that had been going on for years.

We obtained a copy of the school’s investigation from a concerned BPS employee with concerns of a “cover-up.”

The investigation was conducted by Viera’s Dean Chris Higginbotham from August 17-25th, 2023.

In his official report of the investigation, he states, “I was shown a video from an unknown male student on August 17th in the Viera High School front office at approximately 9:30 am. The video depicted a male student later identified as REDACTED being danced on by another male student later identified as REDACTED. I was able to identify REDACTED and REDACTED in this video. Based on who was clearly identifiable in the video, I returned to my office and called the students one-by-one to get their statements.”

The first student that he interviewed was one of the victims. According to his report, the victim stated, “he was picked up by three or four boys and carried into the Varsity Football Locker Room.” He could only identify by name one of the boys who picked him up. He stated that the lights were turned off, and three boys were dancing on him.

Next, Mr. Higginbotham interviewed one of the boys clearly identifiable in the video. He stated, “I told REDACTED that he was identified as being in a video inappropriately gesturing towards REDACTED’s face.”

“REDACTED then pulled out his phone and showed me two more videos at will. One video depicted a child getting jumped on and ‘humped’ face down in what was clearly a locker room.” The video was taken that same Monday, according to the student.

“The other video was of an unrelated incident of a game of ‘rock, paper, scissors,’ which is still under investigation. I asked if this has happened before, and REDACTED said, ‘Yes. It happened to me.’ I then asked REDACTED who else had done this to him and when. REDACTED stated, ‘A few years ago… I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.'”

The unidentified student then declined to give a written statement.

The dean then called the second identifiable student to his office and interviewed him. The student agreed to give a written statement. His report states, “REDACTED admitted to being in the locker room during the incident. When asked about dancing on the victim, REDACTED admitted to dancing on the victim for a second or two. When asked if this is happening multiple times, REDACTED stated, ‘yes.’ REDACTED wrote in his statement, ‘This has only happened to underclassmen.'”

Mr. Higginbotham then interviewed a third student. The student only admitted to being present. “When I asked, has this happened before, REDACTED said, ‘What?’ At that point, I started asking more questions about the possibility of past hazing, like where, when, and who. REDACTED would not answer any of my questions other than to say, ‘I don’t know.’ The student refused to give a written statement.

Mr. Higginbotham brought all the statements to Ms. Legate, Viera’s Principal, around 2 pm on August 17, 2023. They both concluded that, in accordance with the student code of conduct, it appeared to be a hazing infraction, and the parents were notified.

On August 25th, the investigation shows further questioning and statements by more members of the team. Several students refused to give a statement at all.

What is not in the school’s investigation is any mention of the second victim that is clearly visible in the background of the viral video. Officials speaking publicly about the investigation repeatedly state that there were “victims” in the incident. Most comments on the matter on social media also point out the second victim in the video; however, their face is not visible in the video circulated online.

(Screen shot of video capturing what appears to be the 2nd victim in the viral video)

At the September 7th School Board meeting, School Board Member Jennifer Jenkins questioned the decision that allowed the team to resume all football activities. She questioned how that decision could be made while the criminal investigation being conducted by law enforcement was still pending, and no final determinations had been made. She wanted the board to have the Superintendent suspend football activities at least until the investigation was completed.

School Board Member Megan Wright agreed with Jenkins. “I too question how we are making decisions when we don’t

even have the investigation completed yet. That’s pretty hard to me. It should have been paused until the investigation gets wrapped up. I haven’t read the investigation. I wanted to wait until it was done in its entirety and then read it,” Mrs. Wright said.

“We are tasked with how do we teach the lesson to these children, to all of our sports teams that this cannot happen. That we will not tolerate it in Brevard County. How do we do that, and right now I feel like the message that the community has received is we haven’t done that. We just picked up and they’re back playing,” she continued.

School Board Member Kayte Campbell stated that she had not yet looked at the report and didn’t want to make any decisions before then. But she emphasized that this is a Superintendent decision. “My general thought is we are the policy makers, and we also sit in a quasi-judicial role if it were to ever come to us. The superintendent and his staff are the executors of those policies, and that needs to stay in their lane.”

School Board member Gene Trent stated during the meeting that he also disagreed with Jenkins. “We need to trust the process,” he said.

“If the findings come in later that it’s different than what we were told, then we can handle it differently. But, um, no. Based on the information we had at the time, I’m satisfied with where we’re at at this point. And moving forward, I question, would we be having these same questions from the public if maybe it was a different High School.”

Mr. Trent did not disclose if he actually read the investigation or not.

The deciding vote was made by Chairman Matt Susin to not suspend football operations. He admitted that he had only seen two seconds of the actual video and did not disclose if he read the investigation either. He said that Dr. Rendell has made decisions along the way, and that he didn’t want to make any decisions until the full investigation was completed, and to “trust the process.”

However, it is not clear of what that “process” actually is. There is a clear process outlined in the student code of conduct as it relates to individual students’ discipline for their own behaviors. What is not outlined is the handling of an entire school program that is under internal and criminal investigation. It appears that those kinds of actions taken are strictly a judgment call by the Superintendent and other school administration.

You can watch that portion of the meeting here.

Mrs. Jenkins and Mrs. Wright’s comments are about those decisions, and not those referenced in the student code of conduct. Their concern, as well as a large portion of the public’s concern, was, is this a culture problem. As stated by at least two of the students in the investigation, this was not an isolated incident and has been going on for years. The head coach has also been a part of the team’s leadership for years.

There has been no mention of the incident by the School Board or District leadership since then.

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