Friday, May 02, 2008

Memphis defends its weiner

The Memphis City School District has issued a statement on the ACLU complaint against Daphne Beasley, the Hollis F. Price Middle College High School principal who outed two gay students. The school district, after consulting with their lawyers, have decided to admit no wrong and concede no ground to the complaint. Their statement does not provide much in the way of new information, but it does provide some interesting spin.

As to why Beasley was collecting the names of couples:
We are at all times proactive in assuring that our students are provided a safe, nurturing and disciplined learning climate. Unfortunately, in fall 2007, we received numerous complaints from LeMoyne-Owen College faculty and staff that some of our student couples were involved in explicit sexual behavior in public view on the college campus.

In light of this information from LeMoyne-Owen faculty and staff, the principal of Hollis F. Price made several general announcements to the student body that this behavior would not be tolerated. Regrettably, the improper behavior continued. Therefore, the principal felt it appropriate to notify the parents of those children she knew to be involved romantically. This was done in an effort to gain the support of the parents in reinforcing the message that such behavior is in violation of Memphis City Schools’ Student Code of Conduct.

The choice of words is interesting. What do they mean by "explicit sexual behavior in public view"? Were students having sex in public? Was there more necking and groping going on at Hollis F. Price than at any other high school? They say there was some sort of a problem, but they are vague about the nature and extent of the problem.

In addition, the school district narrative leaves out several important points. They don't address the aspect of the complaint that Beasley was very specific in criticizing the young men to their parents for being homosexuals and said she would not tolerate homosexuality in her school. Was this call different that the calls to the parents of heterosexual couples? The issue of whether the young men were singled out for different treatment than other couples is the core of the complaint.
The principal did not list any information other than students’ names on her personal call list, and she certainly did not specify the sexual orientation of any student.

This is disingenuous in the extreme. It was a list of couples. Two male names were listed together as a couple. Hollis F. Price is a school for gifted kids. Are they suggesting that in Memphis even the gifted kids couldn't figure that one out?
Additionally, the list was never posted publicly anywhere at the school.

The complaint doesn't say that it was posted in public; it says it was posted in her office where any visitor could, and many did, see it.
It is the position of Memphis City Schools that the principal did act in an appropriate manner in order to correct a serious issue at the school and that Memphis City Schools has not subjected either of these students to discriminatory treatment.

The last part of that sentence glosses over all of the specific complaints of discrimination. Were the two students subjected to verbal harassment by faculty as a result of Beasley making their orientation known? Were they prohibited from socializing or studying together on school grounds while other couples were not limited in this way? Was one of them prevented from going on a school sponsored trip because the faculty were afraid he would engage in "improper" conduct and embarrass the school?

Finally there is the question that they do answer. Many bloggers and commenters were struck by the creepiness (and utter impracticality) of a high school principal attempting to keep tabs on all the romantic connections in her school. In both the ACLU complaint and the Memphis City School District response, it is stated that Beasley collected the names of all the couples that the faculty could identify, not just those who were believed to be "involved in explicit sexual behavior in public view." It appears that this kind of prudish voyeurism is considered appropriate by Beasley's supervisors. I'm a purist on the right of privacy, but I think slipping into this kind surveillance culture is something that should alarm any American. There's always a good reason to give up rights, but once they are gone, they are almost impossible to get back.

No comments: