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Birthday Hazing Injures Middle School Student

Violence: A campus in Orange is ending a tradition in which pupils play-punch classmates after a 14-year-old boy was hit so hard that he was hospitalized.

October 12, 2001|DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

School officials today will put an end to a birthday tradition at an Orange campus that resulted in a boy being so severely pummeled that he required hospitalization.

The boy's mother questioned Thursday how school officials could have let matters reach the point where her son was beaten so severely by classmates that he ended up in the intensive care unit with a bruised spleen.

Students and officials at Portola Middle School said it is a tradition to play-punch those celebrating their birthdays.

Authorities with the Orange Unified School District characterized the assault as an aberration, but conceded that three years ago, a student on the same campus was expelled for punching a classmate on a birthday. There were no serious injuries in that case.

The three boys, all 13, allegedly involved in last Friday's attack will face expulsion, said Frank Boehler, the district's child-welfare administrator.

Police arrested the boys on suspicion of battery the same day and turned them over to their parents.

The injured boy's mother, Robyn Worden, said her son expressed fears about going to school on his 14th birthday but would not tell her why. Although the mother was willing to be interviewed, she asked that her son's name not be published.

"He didn't tell me that if he went to school, he might get a beating," Worden said Thursday at her home in Orange. "You send your kid to school on his birthday, he shouldn't be afraid."

Worden said she learned later that her son had gone so far as to tell some of his friends not to offer him birthday wishes aloud.

But during a morning assembly, a friend did wish him a happy birthday out loud.

He asked a teacher to escort him to his first-period class. But on his way to second period, a physical education class, he was approached by the three students who punched him several times in the stomach, his mother said.

Worden said she received a call that morning from school officials, who said her son had walked into the nurse's office complaining of having been assaulted by other students.

She took her son to UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, where he was initially placed in the intensive care unit.

Doctors found that the boy had a bruised spleen, a serious injury, said hospital spokeswoman Kim Pine. He left the intensive care unit Tuesday and was listed in good condition Thursday.

Portola students said Thursday that it is tradition to play-punch those celebrating their birthdays on their arms and that usually no one gets hurt.

"It is not supposed to be hard," said Andrew Likee, 13, an eighth-grader who knows Worden's son. "It is just supposed to be a tap."

Boehler said school officials will hold assemblies today to tell the students that the tradition must end.

"Kids will be kids, but we need to teach them good behavior," he said. "Birthdays should be celebrated with presents and songs."

But Worden called for more security at the school, which Boehler said is already patrolled by an officer from the Orange Police Department.

"My son was hurt in a public place where he should have felt safe," Worden said.

Orange Police Sgt. Dave Hill said all three alleged assailants will face charges of misdemeanor battery and could get up to six months in juvenile hall or probation.

Boehler said he could not discuss the students' records. He said they did not dispute beating their classmate.

"I'm still in shock," Worden said. "You go to school on your birthday and you end up in a trauma room."

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