Pittsburghers woke up this morning to front-page P-G coverage
of a story that's been circulating Mt. Lebanon for several days: Some number of high school students, presumably boys, assembled and circulated a grotesque "list" of high school girls.
The weak-kneed response of the School District so far, especially as described in the paper, is almost as grotesque as the list itself. The Superintendent referred the matter to the Mt. Lebanon Police. Rightly, I think, the Department has concluded that this isn't a criminal problem. Instead, it's the District's problem. Among the District leaders quoted in the Post-Gazette, only Mark Hart seems to have a grasp of the seriousness of the issue and of the District's role.
Isn't anyone at the School District paying attention to what's going on these days on the Duke campus? When school leaders have their heads in the sand, first bad things happen, and then it gets worse. Failure to act strongly in this case -- that is, failure to exercise some *leadership* -- will have profound consequences later on. It won't be pretty.
Does the District have authority to act here? Of course it does. This doesn't need to get wrapped up in what constitutes "sexual harassment." It's bullying, plain and simple, and the District has to have a policy against bullying. Doesn't it?
And should the District act? Of course again.
Step one: Identify all of the students involved. The students know who is responsible for this. In all probability, parents do, too, or will soon. If necessary, bring every student in the school in for Q&A, starting with the seniors.
Step two: Punish them, and punish any adult employees of the District who had any knowledge that this was going on.
Step three: Immediately and publicly re-declare a zero-tolerance policy regarding bullying, at all ages and grade levels.
Step four: Initiate a comprehensive review of Mt. Lebanon's vaunted
and nationally-recognized Character Education program
, which now appears to be a complete failure.
I went to the District website this morning and did a search on the word "Character." Here's what I got back: "Search the MTLSD Web Sites for: character. Total Records Returned: 0. Your search did not produce any results."
UPDATE #1 (4/27): The Post-Gazette follows the story
. Unfortunately, the story focuses more on the battle of the lawyers rather than on educational and ethical issues.The Trib has an interesting story about an underappreciated aspect of this situation
: Internet technology magnifies the effect of rumor and innuendo in ways that neither schools nor students really appreciate. A piece of paper that gets passed around doesn't cause harm on the scale of an email or website (or MySpace or facebook) that gets sent around. I asked my kids whether Mt. Lebanon High School offers any instruction in the *ethics* of technology. Answer: No.
UPDATE #2 (4/27): Just in case that it's not otherwise obvious from the format of this blog, this post represents my views alone. (The Comments represent the views of their respective authors.) To avoid any appearance of a possible conflict of interest, however, Josephine Posti, who is a member of the School Board, has withdrawn from her association with the blog as a whole. I thank Jo for her earlier contributions and wish her well in everything.