Yesterday, a local parent called me, distraught.

This person’s daughter is one of more than 30 students suspended from Scripps Ranch High School last week over that now infamous twerking video, where the group of mostly girls jerks and shakes on camera for what many originally thought was a class multi-media project.

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The video, and news of the participants’ suspensions for lewd conduct and sexual harassment, have gone viral, sparking national outrage over the seemingly too-harsh punishment. The students were suspended for two days, and because of school policies, “some of those suspended are also banned from attending prom or walking at graduation,” according to NBC 7 San Diego.

School administrators seem especially upset that the video was shot on school property, using school equipment, but those issues don’t factor into the official punishment. Both the school principal and San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Bill Kowba have zeroed in on the “offensive” and “lewd” nature of the video as the reason for the punishment.

But the real outrage here isn’t quite that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime (though that’s absurd too, since it’s hard to figure out exactly how the video even constitutes a crime). It’s that administrators have perverted the definition of “sexual harassment” and wielded it against the very people those types of provisions are meant to protect. Of those suspended, 28 were girls and three were boys (Or, as Kowba creepily refers to them in a memo, “28 white females and 3 male students of color.”)


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The parent I spoke with (who requested anonymity because the family still worries about retribution from administrators) was disturbed by Kowba’s description:

Why didn’t he say, “16 brunettes and 12 blondes”? …

I cannot accept the answer, or its implication: Permission to broad-brush my daughter’s 1.4 second twerk attempt into being deemed “severely sexual,” the threshold for suspension for sexual harassment.

Kowba’s bizarre decision to bring race into the equation recalls some pretty antiquated notions of racial and gender norms. Are we supposed to be more disturbed by the video because it was produced by three black students?

All of the district’s policies on sexually harassing conduct — as well as the Title IX provisions that involve sexual harassment — seem to imply that any offending incident has to involve a victim — someone on the receiving end of “mean unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature, made by someone from or in the educational setting.”

Since the video isn’t directed at anyone in particular, nor was it filmed in front of others where it might disrupt or offend other students, it’s hard to say who that victim actually is, except maybe Kowba himself, who said he finds the video deeply offensive.

Brandishing sexual harassment charges for dance moves also sets a dangerous precedent. Say what you will about these students’ dance skills, but the sharp, aggressive movements show a group of girls in control of their own bodies.

If Kowba chooses to see something “sexually suggestive” in those movements, perhaps we should be turning to him to find fault.

In an email to Kowba and school administrators that I obtained, one parent argues: “These videos celebrate the beauty of positive, creative and expressive Multi Media collaboration, often including jerking, twerking, grinding, ‘Gangnam Style’ dancing and ‘dougie’-ing.”

Turning those moves around on the girls, and using them as the catalyst for a punishment that could haunt their futures, suggests that the girls themselves should bear the burden of a society that seeks to sexualize and objectify them at every turn.

Now the group’s fate might rest with the school board, whose members (four men, one woman) will consider the suspension in a closed meeting next Tuesday. (Trustee Scott Barnett has already expressed wariness over the punishment.)

The group’s suspension last week closely coincided with another big story on student misconduct: an undercover drug probe at several local high schools that ultimately led to 19 people being charged.

When held up next to each other, it’s pretty laughable that the school and the district is bending over backward to find fault with a crude but ultimately harmless video. There are real dangers lurking in schools — say, the easy availability of drugs — but jerking and ass-shaking isn’t one of them.

Update: The school board originally planned to discuss the suspensions this week, but will now consider the issue in a closed session next week.

Sara Libby is VOSD’s managing editor. She oversees VOSD’s newsroom and its content. You can reach her at sara.libby@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0526.

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    This article relates to: Education, News, Opinion, Sara Libby on News, School Discipline, Share

    Written by Sara Libby

    Sara Libby is VOSD’s managing editor. She oversees VOSD’s newsroom and its content. You can reach her at sara.libby@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0526.

    38 comments
    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    I agree that if it states "lewd conduct and sexual harassment" that is going to far. Although these days I don't think it matters that much since any college admittance or future employer looking into the suspension can get the whole story from Google.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones

    I agree that if it states "lewd conduct and sexual harassment" that is going to far. Although these days I don't think it matters that much since any college admittance or future employer looking into the suspension can get the whole story from Google.

    Joseph Monroe
    Joseph Monroe subscriber

    The writer sees this event though a narrow lens and doesn't appreciate or realize the greater implications this surrender to indecency and disregarding institutional rules has on the students and our society. All students, particularly "model" students, should strive to set examples and demonstrate citizenship and leadership. They failed in this stunt, and they deserve the punishment.

    VoiceOfSandyEggo
    VoiceOfSandyEggo

    The writer sees this event though a narrow lens and doesn't appreciate or realize the greater implications this surrender to indecency and disregarding institutional rules has on the students and our society. All students, particularly "model" students, should strive to set examples and demonstrate citizenship and leadership. They failed in this stunt, and they deserve the punishment.

    Matt Finish
    Matt Finish subscriber

    I was appalled that their twerking skills were not better. Practice more ladies!

    Matt Finish
    Matt Finish

    I was appalled that their twerking skills were not better. Practice more ladies!

    Akamai
    Akamai

    Neither could I.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    You are taking a statement out of context and apply an absolute to it that Kowba never intended.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones

    You are taking a statement out of context and apply an absolute to it that Kowba never intended.

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    violating rules, but is it sexual harassment? I sure don't see the dancers as being sexual harassers. I think it is wrong to take a serious issue and start making it a catch all for this and similar behavior.

    myearth
    myearth

    violating rules, but is it sexual harassment? I sure don't see the dancers as being sexual harassers. I think it is wrong to take a serious issue and start making it a catch all for this and similar behavior.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    I agree. VOSD embarrasses itself with this one.

    Jennifer Reiswig
    Jennifer Reiswig subscribermember

    I agree completely about the overly heavy punishment, particularly for the seniors. Seems to me cheerleading would fit the description of sexually suggestive dancing. Such hysteria over next to nothing.

    bmljenny
    bmljenny

    I agree completely about the overly heavy punishment, particularly for the seniors. Seems to me cheerleading would fit the description of sexually suggestive dancing. Such hysteria over next to nothing.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood

    Just another example of how bored youngsters, with too much time on their hands, can dream up new fads that drive the media types, who are always on the hunt for "news", crazy.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Just another example of how bored youngsters, with too much time on their hands, can dream up new fads that drive the media types, who are always on the hunt for "news", crazy.

    bigdprender
    bigdprender subscriber

    Two day suspensions might fit the crime. But depriving them of once-in-a-lifetime events such as senior prom and graduation is devastating and wrong (at least give them a choice of one or the other). Whoever organized it and posted it deserves the majority of blame. This stuff is likely caught on video all of the time, probably even ends up on YouTube, but never gets this overblown.

    bigdprender
    bigdprender

    Two day suspensions might fit the crime. But depriving them of once-in-a-lifetime events such as senior prom and graduation is devastating and wrong (at least give them a choice of one or the other). Whoever organized it and posted it deserves the majority of blame. This stuff is likely caught on video all of the time, probably even ends up on YouTube, but never gets this overblown.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    The parents of these little darlings ought to be thankful that the district is meting out discipline that they themselves apparently shrink from. I certainly participated in activities in high school that I knew crossed the line. I also knew that if I got caught, I'd have to take my medicine. These days it seems like every parent thinks their kid ought to get a pass.

    B Chris Brewster
    B Chris Brewster

    The parents of these little darlings ought to be thankful that the district is meting out discipline that they themselves apparently shrink from. I certainly participated in activities in high school that I knew crossed the line. I also knew that if I got caught, I'd have to take my medicine. These days it seems like every parent thinks their kid ought to get a pass.

    Lora Christine
    Lora Christine subscriber

    ow and where the group performs, spontaneously or otherwise? These sorts of rules come about for a reason, there's a purpose behind them and a demand for them.

    lcris
    lcris

    ow and where the group performs, spontaneously or otherwise? These sorts of rules come about for a reason, there's a purpose behind them and a demand for them.

    Donald Kimball
    Donald Kimball subscribermember

    Kowba is clearly at fault for widespread sexual harassment by causing this video to go viral. If it wasn't for him, I would have thought Twerking was Tweeting while Working. As principal he failed miserably to suppress this blatant licentious behavior, and in fact prostituted himself on the alter immorality.

    CadillacMan
    CadillacMan

    Kowba is clearly at fault for widespread sexual harassment by causing this video to go viral. If it wasn't for him, I would have thought Twerking was Tweeting while Working. As principal he failed miserably to suppress this blatant licentious behavior, and in fact prostituted himself on the alter immorality.

    Eduardo Stephano
    Eduardo Stephano subscriber

    I know it must be upsetting to some parents who naively believe that their precious little teenage girls are not as pure and innocent as they thought (think). Yes, the video is sexually suggestive, especially coupled with the song lyrics. They were obviously trying to film a hip hop video for entertainment or artistic purposes. Like many teenagers though they didn't think about the consequences once the video went viral. They were suspended for two days, big deal. Maybe it will teach them a lesson to be more discreet next time.

    zeekzeus
    zeekzeus

    I know it must be upsetting to some parents who naively believe that their precious little teenage girls are not as pure and innocent as they thought (think). Yes, the video is sexually suggestive, especially coupled with the song lyrics. They were obviously trying to film a hip hop video for entertainment or artistic purposes. Like many teenagers though they didn't think about the consequences once the video went viral. They were suspended for two days, big deal. Maybe it will teach them a lesson to be more discreet next time.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    should of been political correctness.

    mgland
    mgland

    should of been political correctness.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Common sense is being replaced with Political harassment on steroids anymore.

    mgland
    mgland

    Common sense is being replaced with Political harassment on steroids anymore.

    David Hall
    David Hall subscriber

    The whole incident is absurd.

    sdguy
    sdguy

    The whole incident is absurd.