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ACLU calls twerking suspensions "illegal and ill-advised"

May 16, 2013|By Tony Perry

The suspensions meted out to 31 high school students in San Diego for being in a "twerking" video were "illegal and ill-advised" and should be reconsidered, the ACLU said in a letter to the school principal Thursday.

The two-day suspensions do not fit the Education Code definition of conduct that constitutes sexual harassment, David Loy, legal director of the ACLU branch for San Diego and Imperial counties, wrote to Scripps Ranch High School Principal Ann Menna.

"...Mass suspension based on allegations of sexual harassment was apparently unjustified and excessive," Loy said. "It twists and trivializes the purpose of sexual harassment policies to use them to punish students they were designed to protect."

Also, Loy said, the Education Code calls for suspensions only when there is no other way to "bring about proper conduct."

Through a school district spokesman, Menna declined comment. Several of the students are appealing the suspensions to get them erased from their school record, using a school district procedure for such appeals. Some parents have hired lawyers.

Loy said the ACLU does not have a client in the issue but will watch what action is taken by the school.

In the video, shot on campus, the students are shown twisting and thrusting their hips and buttocks, with rap music playing in the background. The term "twerking" is said to be a mix of the words twist and jerk.

"It is my personal opinion that the video is a deeply offensive production with implications for lewd conduct, sexual harassment and gender victimization," Supt. Bill Kowba wrote in a memo to board members before this week's meeting. "It is especially insulting to [Scripps Ranch High], having been filmed on district property without district/school authorization."

After hearing complaints from parents that the suspensions were too harsh and could hurt their children's chances of being admitted to college, the San Diego Unified School District governing board met in closed session Tuesday night.

Board members emerged to announce that the state Education Code bars them from overturning the suspensions given out by administrators. Only those administrators can overturn their decisions, the board said.

But one board member broke ranks Wednesday by issuing a memo to reporters saying that both the students and the Scripps Ranch administrators "showed poor judgment."

Board member Scott Barnett called on the students to apologize and the school principal to expunge the suspensions from their records. He agreed with parents who said that a suspension for alleged sexual harassment could be damaging to students' college admission hopes.

Barnett said that parts of the video "were offensive and inappropriate" and that the video should not have been shot on campus.

"I on occasion hear language and music and see behavior by teenagers that I find very offensive and even shocking," Barnett said. "I do not like it, but it's a reflection of our times."

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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