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Students shunning shavings

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East High's student government has a message for next year's class: Head-shavings must go.

Some two dozen student leaders on East's Board of Control signed a statement decrying the head-shaving tradition. The statement, urging students to "join us in stopping this illegal practice," was mailed last week to some 2,000 East-area homes, assistant principal Walt Schofield said Wednesday.

The students came up with the idea and wrote the letter themselves, principal Harold Trussel said. He believes the action helps students learn leadership.

"They can do a lot of things administrators can't do in terms of working with the student body," Trussel said. "They're their friends, the people they trust with leadership. It kind of puts them all on the same side."

School and parent leaders applaud the effort.

"I appreciate students showing some leadership to their peers and helping the school get rid of a tradition that has demeaned and hurt some students," said Salt Lake City Board of Education President Joel Briscoe, who lives within East's boundaries.

"We are supportive and plan to come up with our own letter endorsing their position," East PTA President Becky Olson said. The PTA letter, which could be issued with the East Community Council, will go out before school starts.

For some 30 years, East senior boys have shaved freshmen heads. Some view the practice as a sign of belonging to the "in crowd." Some parents reportedly have put in a word with seniors to make sure their sons' heads were shaved.

But some parents view the head-shavings as a violation of rights and personal space. They believe the practice constitutes hazing under state law.

The law defines hazing as an act that endangers a person's health or safety or subjects him or her to severe mental stress. Hazing, illegal even if everyone participates willingly, is a class A, B or C misdemeanor, depending on severity.

A recent East graduate pleaded guilty this week to a misdemeanor charge in connection with the head-shavings, Trussel confirmed.

In the East High incidents, seniors typically ride in cars looking for freshmen boys, parents and administrators say. The seniors chase their targets, put them in the car, drive to a secluded area and shave their heads with clippers.

The school contends the incidents violate safe school policies and suspended 12 students at the beginning of last school year.

Administrators then asked students to sign forms acknowledging they understood the district's and school's zero-tolerance hazing policy. Still, administrators suspended 10 seniors involved in head-shavings last spring.

This summer, the school received word that 18 students' heads were shaved.

The school dealt with the latest perpetrators differently. A couple put in 20 hours of community service — in a way useful to the school's crusade — by stuffing envelopes containing the Board of Control's anti-shaving letters, Schofield said.

Now, Schofield hopes those and other students who have been in trouble for it will help end head-shavings, maybe by sending out letters themselves.

"I think they're all starting to see the potential harm that it may create and that it has an exclusivity about it that is damaging as well," Schofield said. "In the past, it might have been harmless . . . but it just no longer will work."

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com