Homecoming pep rally and dance cancelled

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:29

    Students’ prank at Battle of the Classes prompted move Sparta — What some students thought would be an epic prank at the high school’s annual Battle of the Classes last Thursday night was, in fact, an epic misstep. A large number of students, which some estimated was more than 200, reportedly participated in an action intended to single out two freshman students and ridicule a rumor of a sexual incident. The high school administration was not amused. The consequence of the prank was the cancellation of both the pep rally scheduled for last Friday afternoon and the Homecoming dance scheduled for last Saturday night. The students who were singled out were embarrassed and witnesses said one ran out of the gym while the other hid under the bleachers. On Friday, High School Principal Dennis Tobin met with other administrators and decided that punishment for the students’ actions must be swift and definite to send a strong message that such behavior will not be tolerated. So many students were involved that Tobin said it would be impossible to single them all out individually, so the entire student body would have to bear the consequences of the behavior of those that participated in the event last Thursday night. Tobin sent an email to parents last Friday to inform them that the pep rally and dance would be cancelled. Immediately, criticism from some parents poured into the high school and to the district offices, claiming it was unfair to punish those not involved and asking why the football game was not cancelled as well. Officials explained the football game was a different matter because it was a regular Northern New Jersey Athletic Conference season game that would have to be rescheduled and involved another school district being inconvenienced. Tobin’s message to parents “Please be advised that I have made the decision to cancel today's pep rally and our homecoming dance scheduled for Saturday evening. This difficult decision was made after considerable thought from my office and was based on the inappropriate behavior of a large portion of our student body at our Battle of the Classes program Thursday night. Due to the sensitive nature of some of this behavior, it would not be appropriate for me to share the details with you via this email. If this inappropriate behavior involved a small number of our students, we would have chosen to discipline those few students accordingly. However, the large number of students involved in this behavior did not make this possible. Unfortunately, I know many innocent students will be affected by my decision. Although this is the case, I hope you trust that my decision is made in what I believe is in the best interest of our school community. This has been a difficult week for all of us in Sparta and I believe a strong message needs to be sent to our students that we cannot tolerate this type of behavior. That being said, I am confident that this will be a valuable learning experience that will make our student body come together and make the remainder of the 2011-2012 school year an enjoyable and successful one!” Very bad timing This event could not have happened during a worse week. Last Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the suicide of a Rutgers University student after he was humiliated by two other students who posted an intimate video of him and another student on You-Tube. Shortly after that event, the state’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act was passed and Governor Christie signed the bill into law last January. Just last week, state Attorney General Paula Dow sent guidelines to all schools and law enforcement officials to help them develop procedures to incorporate the set of stringent and detailed new rules for dealing with cases of bullying and harassment. Although not related to harassment or a bullying event, last week Sparta High School was still mourning the suicide death of one of its own students the week before. So the timing of the Battle of the Classes prank was extremely unfortunate, officials said. The prank would fall within the parameters of acts of bullying and harassment, as described in the new legislation. If those involved file a complaint, it will involve many layers of administrative requirements on the part of high school officials, as well as many as 12 meetings between the students, parents, and administrators. This is one of the criticisms of the new law, which most believe was well intentioned and necessary, but resulted in a cumbersome multi-step set of requirements that must be fulfilled for every reported incident. Although schools have just begun to deal with the new law and do not have enough experience applying the new procedures to effectively judge their effectiveness, some fear the acts of bullying or harassment and the victims themselves could get buried in the reams of red tape officials must now wade through in the handling of these cases. But in the case of the recent event at the high school, officials hope students will remember the consequences, re-think their actions, and refrain from any future attempts to ridicule a classmate.