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Virginia legislators have passed a bill requiring hazing awareness and prevention training at public high schools.

The House passed Senate Bill 379 by a vote of 56-44 on Monday, with all 51 Democrats and five Republicans voting in support. The Senate unanimously approved it earlier this month. 

It comes two years after Virginia lawmakers mandated hazing training at Virginia colleges. That measure was nicknamed “Adam’s Law,” for Adam Oakes, a Virginia Commonwealth University student who died in 2021 in a fraternity hazing incident. 

The bill calls for the State Board of Education to approve research-based curriculum for hazing education and for schools to teach it in ninth- or 10th-grade health and physical education classes. 

The Oakes family has visited high schools and colleges throughout the state offering seminars on why hazing happens, how to stop it and how to spot alcohol poisoning. Courtney White, Adam’s cousin, earned a doctorate in education and wrote her thesis on hazing. 

She says she has learned in the past three years that waiting until a teenager is in college might be too late. Hazing is happening on high school teams, bands and clubs, she said. 

“We’ve been horrified of stories we’ve heard,” Eric Oakes added. Had a member of Adam’s fraternity received training, maybe one of them would have known to call 911.

According to one researcher, there was at least one reported hazing death each year from 1959 to 2021. There were none in 2022 or 2023. 

The law already requires schools to provide education on violence prevention, including hazing. But there are no guidelines on how to do it, and most schools don’t, said Del. Atoosa Reaser, D-Loudoun, who sponsored a companion bill in the House. 

The bills have the support of the Virginia Education Association and the Virginia High School League, which oversees sports for public high schools throughout the state. Loudoun County Public Schools also endorsed it. (Oakes grew up in Loudoun.) 

Del. Anne Ferrell Tata, R-Virginia Beach, said the bill is a Band-Aid that doesn’t address the underlying problem. 

“We’re not valuing life the way we need to,” she said.

She said that in addition to hazing prevention training, kids need education on human trafficking and social media bullying. She voted in favor of the hazing bill in subcommittee but against it during a vote of the full House of Delegates.

Sen. Christie New Craig, R-Chesapeake, suggested starting kids’ education even earlier – in middle school. Lawmakers defeated a bill in 2023 calling for hazing training in middle schools. 

While Republicans in the Senate voted for the bill, most Republicans in the House opposed it. Del. Tom Garrett, R-Buckingham, questioned why the Virginia Education Association would endorse the bill but not another measure that would have required students to learn about the dangers of communism. Communism killed far more people than hazing, Garrett said. That bill was defeated. 

Gov. Glenn Youngkin has not said if he will sign the legislation, and a spokesperson for the governor did not indicate a preference Tuesday. 

The state is taking “innovative measures to eliminate hazing once and for all in our schools,” White said. In June, their family will help lead a statewide hazing prevention summit. “It is our family’s hope that Gov. Youngkin will continue to support our efforts and sign this bill into action.”

After Oakes’ death, VCU kicked off campus the Delta Chi fraternity. Authorities charged 11 members with misdemeanor hazing or misdemeanor serving alcohol to a minor. Six pleaded guilty or were found guilty, and none received jail time. Authorities dropped the charges against the other five. 

A Richmond Times-Dispatch investigation determined Delta Chi repeatedly broke university rules, and VCU struggled to discipline the organization. VCU settled with the Oakes family for almost $1 million. 

The family has filed a $28 million lawsuit against Delta Chi headquarters and members of the fraternity.