Recently, Hazard High School's (HHS) homecoming week activities featured a “Man Pageant” and “Costume Day,” where several male students dressed in lingerie and bikinis and gave male faculty members lap dances, and female students dressed as Hooters waitresses serving drinks.
Following public backlash and a large amount of concern expressed by the community, Sondra Combs, superintendent of the Hazard Independent School District, released an online statement on Oct. 27 regarding the claims of the “inappropriate” homecoming activities. Combs disciplinary action is being taken and changes are being instituted to student activities to prevent a repeat of the incident, among other actions being taken.
Photos of the homecoming activities were posted on the Hazard High School Athletic Facebook page on Monday evening, and were quickly taken down due to the abrupt blow-up of the post online and negative feedback from the community and surrounding areas. On Wednesday, Combs released a statement claiming actions are being taken to investigate the event and prevent future incidents.
“Late in the evening on Oct. 26, 2021, I was made aware of concerns raised by photographs that were posted on the Hazard High School Athletic page. The first thing I did on Oct. 27, was initiate an investigation into the incident. I found photos of inappropriate student-led activities that had since surfaced on social media,” said Combs. “The district has the responsibility to address these issues that arise out of school-based activities. As a district, we are doing exactly that.”
The activities, said Combs, were led by the students, as the school district aims to allow students to express their creativity, however, the result was not what was intended, the statement said.
“The activities were part of homecoming festivities and were driven by the students. We strive to foster creativity in our students, but unfortunately, this time it was carried too far,” said Combs. “Spirit Week at Hazard High School has a long and celebrated tradition. Homecoming activities were planned as a celebration for students, staff and the school community. All were intended to be fun and good natured, however, the activities did not play out as intended. While Homecoming is an annual tradition, there has never been any issue raised prior to this year. Now that an issue has arisen, we are taking this opportunity to review policy and procedures to make certain that it does not happen again.”
Combs said among the actions being taken in response to the homecoming activities are disciplinary action for school faculty, the creation of a student activity committee and the addition and enforcement of training on policies and procedures for school staff.
“Appropriate disciplinary action has been taken following the investigation. As it is a personnel matter, we are not allowed to disclose any further information regarding the specifics of the discipline,” said Combs. “Moving forward, a student activity committee will be developed to review all student led activities, which should prevent any such skits from being performed in the future. While we value our student’s creativity, we also must ensure that it is focused in an appropriate direction and will be more vigilant toward that goal in the future.”
Training, said Combs, will be added and enforced for students and staff.
“Also, training will take place on policies and procedures with all district staff and SBDM’s to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” said Combs. “Using this as a teachable moment, we will provide social media training for our students and staff. In today’s society students must understand that anything posted online is permanent. It is there on public display for everyone to see and share around the globe. We would hate to see a single youthful indiscretion haunt one of our children for their entire life.”
The district, said Combs, will continue to enforce the school dress code as well.
“We have a dress code that is to be followed at all times. It is apparent that it was not in this case, but we will assure you that it will be enforced in the future at all school activities, for both males and females. Costumes will be reviewed for appropriateness in addition to being required to meet the dress code. Any costume referencing drug or alcohol use will be strictly prohibited,” said Combs.
Combs said while the activities did get out of hand, actions are being taken and the district hopes that the community will not let this incident overshadow the school's reputation of striving for excellence.
“At the end of the day, the light-hearted activity simply got out of hand, and for that we apologize. In the future, we will strive to keep the light-hearted, fun nature of school activities without the inappropriate behavior. We will continue to seek to involve our students and foster their creativity, but with more direction. They are young and we will be there to offer better guidance for their ideas in the future. We love our students and only want to provide them with the best education and foundation for a successful life. We only ask that you not judge a district with a century long tradition of striving for excellence on a single incident where fun trumped judgment,” said Combs. “Our district would like to apologize for the activity that has been portrayed in the media and we regret how this has unfolded. This is not the type of event that typically occurs here at Hazard High School, and we sincerely regret any embarrassment this has caused our school community. We love our Hazard High School students, staff and community at large.”