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Alleged branding prompts Hayden officials to discuss teen issues

The past month and a half has not been easy for Hayden High School Principal Troy Zabel.

The alleged branding of as many as six students by other students at a March 11 party at a home has affected the image of his school. The school often becomes the focal point for issues in a small community, Zabel said, especially when those issues involve students.

Zabel and Town Manager Russ Martin have discussed holding a community forum focused on issues related to the town’s teens. The branding incident provided a catalyst for the forum discussion.

“Over the past 10 years, schools definitely (have had to) deal with more social issues,” Zabel said. “For all I know, kids have been doing these things at parties for five years.”

Zabel said coaches have talked with athletes about hazing, but the school has not held other discussions about the alleged branding.

Zabel hopes to consult with professionals who might be able to offer advice. One idea was to have attorneys discuss consequences of breaking laws with students.

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Zabel and Martin also have discussed forming a group of School Board and Town Board members who would meet to talk about community and school issues. The group would decide which issues to discuss and how to approach them.

“There has to be more active members of the community than the ones that have traditionally stepped up,” Martin said. “This is not a School Board member issue or a Town Board member issue. It’s more than that.”

Zabel said, “Obviously, there is an issue, and my approach to the issue is we need to hit it on the head.”

Participation by the community is essential, Martin said, and that could be a challenge given the sensitive nature of topics.

“The ability to be open and honest in front of a large crowd is going to be difficult,” Martin said.