Two San Diego Unified school board members want to review the level of punishment handed down to 31 students at Scripps Ranch High School this week over a video made at school that depicts “twerking,” a suggestive manner of dancing.
School board member Scott Barnett said he wanted the twerking incident and the student punishments be discussed in closed session at Tuesday’s board meeting. District officials said it would be placed on the agenda for the May 14 meeting.
“I want to make sure I am comfortable that the facts and activity warrant the consequences,” Barnett said in a statement.
San Diego Unified board member Kevin Beiser, whose district includes the high school, voiced similar concerns Wednesday.
The students — 28 girls and 3 boys — were suspended from Scripps Ranch Tuesday less than a week after the video appeared on YouTube.
Six of the students are seniors and face the possibility of not being allowed to attend prom or walk during commencement ceremonies.
Parents and students said the students were told not to return to school until Friday.
According to a district official who asked not to be identified because of federal privacy laws, if the students follow a school appeal process known as senior review and apologize for their actions, they likely will be able to participate in graduation and attend the prom.
Board President John Lee Evans said Thursday it was placed on the next regularly scheduled board closed session on May 14.
Evans said that he trusted that “any misbehavior on the part of students in the district” would be appropriately handled by staff, including making sure consequences are fair, students are properly counseled and inappropriate behavior is addressed.
“It is the board’s expectation that these matters be handled in the most professional manner by our staff,” Evans said in a statement.
Jack Brandais, a spokesman for the San Diego Unified School District, earlier said he could not discuss student discipline matters.
The video apparently violates the school’s sexual harassment policy that prohibits verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Twerking involves the shaking and twisting of hips in a suggestive dance move.
The U-T newspaper confirmed that students in a broadcast journalism class used school equipment to record and add music to a video of the group of girls twerking while doing handstands.
The district official said it would have been acceptable if the students had been twerking upright but said doing it while doing a handstand was considered inappropriate in an educational setting.
The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the punishment.
“Unfortunately, the administration at Scripps Ranch High School’s hasty response to its students’ dance video is reflective of a national trend towards unreasonable, overly harsh, and counterproductive disciplinary measures,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, senior policy advocate for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.
“We want young people in school so they can learn and become successful and productive members of the community. What is gained by removing 31 students from the classroom, their prom, and even, possibly, their own graduation? It serves no purpose for the student, the teacher, or the community to keep children from learning.”
Many students were talking about it on Twitter, with some suggesting the punishment went too far and others joking about twerking. One apparent student, whose Twitter handle is @sopjoa69, tweeted: “Suspended for twerking. What do I do? Twerk. At the beach. I twerk at the beach.”
Lyston McNear, a 17-year-old senior, said he was suspended even though he didn’t appear in the video or shoot it, but because he came up with the original idea for the project. He said it was not a class assignment. It took months to create.
He said the video was posted on YouTube on Thursday. “Nobody was offended or anything,” he said. “It was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’”
Lyston said he will have to go through senior review, an appeals board at school, to determine whether he will be able to attend the prom or go through graduation ceremonies.
Beiser wondered if suspension was appropriate for all the students or if the “ringleader” or person who dubbed the music should have received the harshest penalty.
He said he watched the video and said there was some “vulgar inappropriate language” in the music used but added that the girls dancing are “just moving their hips.”
“If it was a bunch of guys dancing would they have all gotten suspended?” he asked.
Lyston’s mother, Nikki McNear, said she watched the video at school when she went to pick up her son the day he was suspended. She said she knew the students should not have been making the video on campus but said “the kids are just dancing” in it.
McNear said she thought the students should have been given Saturday school or a punishment that was less severe than two days suspension.
Suggestive dances have caused consternation for parents and school officials for decades. Not long ago “freak dancing,” which appeared to simulate sex acts, was banned at some high school dances.