US

Student twerkers criminalized, charged with sexual harassment

After making a ‘twerking’ video which was subsequently deemed inappropriate by Scripps Ranch High School, a group of students (mostly girls) will still be permitted to attend their prom and walk at graduation. The catch? They’re now officially charged with sexual harassment, a permanent mark on their school records and a potential hurdle to the college application process.

Though at first both prom and graduation were off limits to the students involved, as well as a two-day suspension. Although the first punishment was recently lifted, the sexual harassment charge still stands.

San Diego Unified School District Trustees met privately to discuss the issue, but several parents spoke before the meeting.

According to the parents, the students made the video for a school project and had no idea it would be edited and put online for the world to see.

“We are asking you to look at these girls in the eyes and tell them they deserve a sexual harassment charge,” one mother said.

The students presented the school with a DVD of previous dances from various school events, such as pep rallies, to provide visual evidence that several school-sanctioned events showed similar dance moves displayed at no disciplinary cost.

According to one parent, the video ”illustrates the environment in which these girls have implicitly been shown what is acceptable.”

“The video also includes what is acceptable media production, what is sanctioned but also promoted by the school administration, with dances similar to ‘twerking,’” the parent added.

One former teacher also sided with the students: “Please, be strong enough to stand up for these girls and their future … How would you feel?”

Says one of the student’s attorneys, who is asking the school for an apology and the charges to be dropped said of her client ”She made a couple of moves that I would best describe as a cross between Elvis Presley and Mary Lou Retton,” and “Everybody deserves due process, even the guilty people. The problem for my client is she’s not guilty.”

It adds insult to injury that most of the girls involved were A- average students and student athletes.

According to the school board president, John Lee Evans, it is up to the Scripps Ranch principal to lift the punishment, since the board only has the right to weigh in on expulsions under the California Education Code.  ”Disciplines at the school site, and suspensions, are under the authority of the principal by Ed Code.”

Furthermore, parents are angered by the fact that the board won’t take a stand for the students. Says one mother, the money that was once going to a college fund will now be spent on a lawyer. ”I am so disappointed. We elected these people and they did nothing for us. We are going to have to hire attorneys and pay $20,000-$30,000 … that was money that would have gone to college. Now, it will be used in attorney fees.”

In a letter written by Scripps Ranch counselors to school board member Kevin Beiser, they expressed a willingness to take the issue further. “When you voiced your opinion against the school the parents and students felt vindicated, further encouraging them to continue the fight, which has now gained negative global attention.”

As of late Tuesday, no lawsuits have been announced.

Senior Vice President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Robert Shibley said that rulings like this lead us down a slippery slope, demeaning true crimes and preventing full exercise of the First Amendment.

“The fact that someone finds expression offensive or embarrassing does not make it ‘harassment,’” Shibley said. “The videos don’t appear to be targeted or discriminatory in any way, so who exactly is being harassed? Calling something harassment when it clearly is not trivializes real harassment, chills expression protected by the First Amendment, and teaches students precisely the wrong lesson about life in our constitutional democracy.”