Alright, so here’s a story I heard about that’s supposed to be featured on the news tonight, but I figured I’d go digging and just do the story now: On Monday the parents of two Bothell High School cheerleaders filed a lawsuit in the King County Superior Court against the Northshore School District (in Washington). The suit alleges that school officials acted unfairly when they suspended the girls from the squad earlier this year after nude photos of the teens circulated through the student body via text messages.
Here’s the background on the case (according to the lawsuit):
- Summer, 2005: A topless photo of one of the cheerleaders is taken and sent to her then-boyfriend’s phone.
- Summer, 2005: The picture is accidentally sent to other BHS students.
- June, 2008: The other teen’s photo was taken when she and another cheerleader used their cell phones to take totally nude pictures of themselves. Those photos were later accidentally sent to other BHS students.
- Shortly after the June pictures were taken: BHS school officials heard rumors the pictures were circulating the student body, especially within members of the football team, so the school sent a letter to all of the cheerleaders’ parents. That letter said that if inappropriate photos were found, the consequences could be suspension from the squad.
- Football players were also told to delete the pictures from their cell phones if they received them
- August: BHS administrators received copies of both photos.
- Some dispute has arisen over who contacted the police first, and whether or not the school properly notified the girls’ parents about the photos.
- One girl is suspended from the squad for 30 days. The other is suspended from the squad for the year.
Attorney Matthew King, representing both families, told reporters that the lawsuits allege that BHS administrators violated the girls’ due process rights by needlessly sharing the photos with other school staff members and failing to promptly report the matter to police as child pornography. King also said that it was unfair that the teens were suspended, but that football players and other BHS students who sent/received the texts were not punished. King told reporters, “We’re not technically challenging the sanctions as being too strict, we’re saying they weren’t evenly enforced across the school. There should have been some punishment meted out to those who were in possession of the photos. … It seems like the girls are getting the brunt of it.” King wants the disciplinary action expunged from both girls’ school records. Additionally, he wants the girl who was suspended for the whole year to be reinstated to the team, and he is demanding an apology from BHS officials for their lack of discipline on other students.
Northshore spokeswoman Susan Stoltzfus disagrees, saying that the school acted appropriately, reporting the photos to the police and giving the girls a chance to appeal their suspensions to both a disciplinary committee as well as the School Board, saying, “Everyone along the line agreed the discipline was appropriate. Obviously, we take these things seriously, but we really don’t believe this [suit] has a lot of merit.”
King also claims that the district’s student handbook doesn’t specifically prohibit what the girls did, and that it doesn’t outline outline potential disciplinary action for a case like this. He told reporters, “My clients fully realize what they did was stupid,” and that they never wanted the photos to be distributed. King said that he still does not know how they were accidentally sent out.
Northshore officials again disagree, saying that the girls violated the district’s athletic code According to Stoltzfus, “When you sign up to be a cheerleader–or for any student activity–you agree to certain codes of behavior.We consider them student leaders, and we want them to be role models.”
I took a look at the athletic code, and although it doesn’t expressly prohibit the production or distribution of child pornography (or any pornography), it does state the following:
Northshore School District
Student Athletic Code
The opportunity to participate in the athletic program in the Northshore School District is a privilege available to all students. Because of the public nature of athletic programs sponsored by the district, students choosing to participate are expected to conduct themselves at all times during their season of participation and between consecutive seasons in a manner that will reflect the high standards and ideals of their school and community. These high personal standards for conduct promote maximum achievement, safe performances, commitment to excellence in health and conditioning, and fulfill responsibilities as student leaders by setting a positive example for other students.
The regulations below are included in the Addendum of the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities Concerning Pupil Conduct. In addition to this Code of Conduct, individual schools may establish other expectations specific to their own individual programs.
Students must meet the standards for interscholastic eligibility as outlined in Article 18 of the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association handbook, the KINGCO League and the Northshore School District and their individual school. Copies of these rules and regulations may be obtained from the school Athletic Director upon request.
The expectations for being a participant in a schoolʼs athletic program, including specific eligibility requirements, training rules and team rules shall be communicated to team members at the beginning of the season of participation. All program expectations and team rules shall be in writing.
Any athlete in a District-sponsored athletic activity who willfully performs any act that substantially interferes with or is detrimental to the orderly operation of the Districtʼs athletic programs shall be subject to discipline. As participants in extracurricular programs, students are faced with choices. If a studentʼs choices interfere, impede, hinder their personal or group/team performance or render the individual as unfit to serve as a representative(s) of the districtʼs schools, they forfeit the privilege to participate. Misconduct by participants in the athletic program at any time, on or off campus, school related and/or non-school activities during the season of participation and between consecutive seasons of participation constitutes cause for discipline including denial of participation in and/or removal from the athletic program. Seasons begin with the first turnout and conclude with the season ending recognition/awards program in the individual sport.
II. Consequences for Athletic Code violations;
A. Student Athletic Code violations are accumulative during grades seven and eight and then again in grades nine through twelve. Any ninth grade student shall be considered a high school student.
B. Consequences for specific violations:
Probation is a period of time in which an athlete may be given time to correct deficiencies that could result in denial of participation for a given period of time or removal from athletic team participation. Denial of participation means that the athlete is allowed to practice but not compete in games. The loss of athletic eligibility, which may carry over to subsequent sports seasons, means the athlete will not participate in interscholastic competition or be in uniform. During the period when a student is assigned a suspension from school, the student is not eligible for any form of participation or attendance at school activities including athletic program participation.
So, although it doesn’t expressly ban what the girls did, I think what they did falls s under “any act that substantially interferes with or is detrimental to the orderly operation of the Districtʼs athletic programs.”
So, where do I stand? I stand on the side of the girls; however, I disagree with what they want done. I agree that BHS officials were way too easy on pretty much everybody other than the 2 girls. I think that the girls should be suspended (or have other disciplinary action taken against them) for failing to follow the athletics agreement. In addition, ANYBODY who possessed the pictures (other than the administrators, who I’ll discuss in a minute) should have been charged with possession of child pornography, and should have had disciplinary action taken against them if they were in a sport (but it had to be a sport that was in season at that time). Obviously, it would have to be proved that the person kept the pictures. I wouldn’t charge anybody just because they received the pictures. The administrators, if they really did report it to the police, did nothing wrong. HOWEVER, if additional copies were passed around for no reason, those responsible should be charged with possession and distribution of child pornography. I do think that BHS officials are wrong in not punishing the football team and other students; however, the way to solve this is NOT to expunge the records of the girls, but to punish ALL who were responsible.
EDIT: I’ve been talking with some people about this, and the argument has come up that perhaps the girls were of age so that it wasn’t child pornography. In addition to the fact that the names are not being released because the girls are minors, I found this photograph from July 4th, 2005, courtesy of the Woodinville Rotary Club. Now, of course this isn’t official, but to me, none of those girls looks 18 (except maybe the one on the left in the front row). Additionally, the one picture was taken in 2005, so we’re guaranteed that that girl wasn’t 18 when the picture was taken: