San Diego Unified School District trustee calls 'twerking' suspensions 'overly severe'

Sexual harassment charge added to records

SAN DIEGO - A San Diego Unified School District Board of Education member said Wednesday he hopes the suspensions of students over a controversial video depicting sexually suggestive dance moves will be taken off the participants' records, so their chances at college admission are not harmed.

Trustee Scott Barnett said the Scripps Ranch High School students who made and appeared in the video, and administrators who rendered the punishment, showed "poor judgment."

The board declined to rescind the suspensions at Tuesday's meeting, since such action is under the authority of principals.

But Barnett said he hopes the Scripps Ranch High principal will retroactively remove the suspensions, so they will no longer appear on the students' records. About 30 were involved in shooting or dancing in the video.

Barnett said the participants deserved to be sanctioned in some manner, suggesting a public apology, lunch detention, writing a paper about their actions or "other relevant consequences."

"At the same time, I believe the punishment meted out -- two-day suspensions for sexual harassment -- was overly severe in that it could cause significant damage to a student's academic future, possibly harming their ability to get into their college of choice," he said. "I am hopeful that all parties involved, both students and district administrators, acknowledge that further thought should have occurred prior to the decisions they made."

The video, which was made during class time on campus, and with school equipment, featured numerous girls in dance moves called "twerking," in which they gyrate their hips in a suggestive manner, sometimes while standing on their heads.

The dancers and videographer were also in danger of not being able to go to prom or walk at graduation, but board President John Lee Evans said Tuesday night those sanctions had been lifted at the school site.

The following is Barnett's full statement on the matter:

We all do and say things in life which we regret. We all make mistakes. As a school board trustee, I have on several occasions publicly apologized for errors in judgment and mistakes I have made.

We all need to take responsibility for our actions and our words.

I have two teen-aged daughters at another San Diego Unified high school. One has been going through the college application process which as a parent, I have learned is highly grueling, competitive, and a stressful process for children and parents alike.

In my time as a San Diego Unified parent and a board trustee I have developed an even greater respect and understanding of the difficult job school site administrators have. The job of being a principal is especially difficult in these times of the social media. As a board trustee I have had excellent relationships and learned much from many of principals on how to best manage school sites. As a board trustee I cannot and do not DIRECT principals to take any action on any specific issue impacting their school sites. Principals report to their area superintendents who ultimately report to the superintendent.

As a parent I strongly believe that we need to set high expectations for our children's public and private behavior.

As a school board trustee I believe San Diego Unified has a legal and ethical decision to set proper guidelines on appropriate behavior and to enforce the discipline.

I will not today or at any time discuss any specific student's academic record or behavior outside of the context of legally constituted closed session.

I do not know any of the students, I do not know their names and my comments are addressing what is now known as the "twerking incident," and the resulting uniform punishment of suspensions.

That said, as a board trustee I have the following comments:

Based on all information known to me, I believe proper process and procedures and legal requirements were followed by all district staff involved.

However, I also believe it was the suspensions approved by district administrators was what resulted in the international attention and embarrassment to the school and students.

I viewed the video and found parts of it to be personally offensive and inappropriate and should not have been produced by students on school time and non school time.

At the same time I spend a lot of time with teenagers as a parent, a soccer coach, and a school board trustee. I, on occasion hear language and music and see behavior by teenagers that I find very offensive and even shocking. I do not like it but it's a reflection of our times.

My overall view of this "twerking incident" is that I believe all parties, both students and administrators showed poor judgment.

I believe every student who participated in the video showed poor judgment and should be held accountable for their actions. If either of my daughters were involved in and agreed to be filmed in ways I saw on the video, I would ensure there were consequences enacted by me and their mother, and want there to be consequences at school including at the very least a public apology and appropriate punishment such as a lunch detention, writing a paper on actions taken or other relevant consequences.

At the same time I believe the punishment meted out (two-day suspensions for sexual harassment) was overly severe in that it could cause significant damage to a student's academic future, possibly harming their ability to get into their college of choice.

I am hopeful that all parties involved, both students and district administrators acknowledge that further thought should have occurred prior to the decisions they made.

The principal does have the authority to remove the student suspensions, which would then remove the suspensions from the student's record.  

The students involved also have an opportunity to apologize to the school community for their participation in this incident.

In conclusion, as a board trustee my primary responsibility is the health, safety and academic success of our children. That means supporting educators and administrators in their work, but also ensuring all actions are in the best interest of students.

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