Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Special Curmie Award: To the Tigers of Southern Columbia Area High School

As you know, Gentle Reader, the Curmie Award is presented to the educator who most embarrasses the profession. I make the nominations and you, collectively, decide on the recipient. One of the rules, however, is that the actions that get one nominated must take place within the last calendar year. But that would mean no award for the gaggle of jerkwads running the asylum at a place called Southern Columbia Area High School in Catawissa, Pennsylvania. This cannot be allowed to happen.

I therefore take it upon myself to bestow a Special Curmie on Principal James A. Becker, football coach Jim Roth, and the rest of the merry band of unethical incompetents at SCA, who are currently being sued for events that took place two and three years ago.

Here’s the story, and yes, I’m aware it sounds—to borrow a phrase from Stevie Nicks—hauntingly familiar to the saga of H.S. I wrote about some 14 months ago… except that this case might actually be a little worse. A cheerleader identified in court documents as “C.S.” was raped by two Southern Columbia athletes in July of 2009. Both boys were convicted: one (“A.Z.”) of indecent assault, the other (“K.D.”) of aggravated indecent assault, sexual assault, and indecent assault. K.D., in other words, was found “delinquent and dependent” on two violent felony counts. [By the way, it took me about two minutes to determine these guys’ names. I won’t include them here, but you can use the Google as well as I can.]

Ah, but did I mention that these guys are athletes, apparently pretty good ones by local standards? [Enjoy your notoriety now, you little bastards: not a lot of call for 5’10”, 160 pound basketball forwards at the next level.] Naturally, in the mindset of the sickos in charge of Southern Columbia, the success of the football and basketball teams ought to trump some mere female getting all hot and bothered about being forced to interact on a regular basis with the criminals who raped her. Boys will be boys, after all. There was precisely zero punishment for the boys.

On the other hand, the school ignored a court order to keep C.S. separated from her assailants, granted them permission to continue their participation in inter-scholastic sports, and even told her that if she didn’t want to be in the same class with her attackers, she’d have to drop out of honors English, because there was only one section. C.S. was de facto prevented from continuing as a cheerleader, since she’d have been forced to cheer for her attackers.

According to C.S., the school claimed (falsely) that they could do nothing without a court order because the assault took place off school property. I’m no lawyer, but I can identify the aroma of bullshit when I smell it. As C.S. claims in her lawsuit, the school put forward the:
… legally flawed position that no action could be taken absent a court order since the assault did not take place on school grounds. The School District took this position although it had a Title IX coordinator, its employees and agents had received Title IX training, and it specifically learned at this Title IX training that it could take action against student athletes who had committed a crime off school grounds.
An assistant football coach was in charge of class scheduling (convenient, yes?), and (deliberately? incompetently?) scheduled C.S. in the same study hall and same lunch period as the boys, despite a court order not to do so. The principal, football coach, and cheerleading coach (oh, so coincidentally the football coach’s wife) all went out of their way to testify not merely for A.Z. and K.D., but against C.S., and the boys were still convicted. When the school was finally forced to accede to the demand for reasonable academic accommodation for C.S., they opened another section of honors English for the two boys, having refused to do so for C.S.

As Katherine Redmond, the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, writes:
As long as the administrators, who included a Title IX coordinator, were shielding the boys from any accountability while they racked up wins, that's all that mattered. The victim, who lost her entire high school experience, was not the issue to them. Ensuring the safety of other students was not their problem. Not if they could use the insulation of their small community to bully a teenage girl.
I could go on, but what’s the point? It’s clear that Principal Becker and his staff were willing to go to extraordinary lengths to accommodate a couple of kids who should have been thrown out of school altogether. Gentle Reader, you are no doubt aware that Curmie gets frustrated by schools that want to interfere with the judicial system. Kids get suspended for posting something on a private Facebook account that no rational adult could possibly construe as a threat. But if a student actually gets found guilty, by a court, of felony sexual assault against a classmate, well, there’s “nothing they can do.”


There’s plenty they could do, but they didn’t. Why? Because they’re misogynistic jackasses? Because A.Z. and K.D. are jocks? Or from influential (a.k.a. rich) local families? Because Becker so covets a Curmie he’ll do anything to get one? Pick one… or more. The fact is, the picture at the top of this piece represents the only thing, and I do mean the only thing this school cares about.

I know, I know… I’m basing all this commentary just on what C.S. and her lawyer say. There’s another side to the story, no doubt. Trouble is, I doubt it. Too much of the case is demonstrable: the boys were convicted, they were allowed not merely to continue in school but to play sports, they were in the same classes. These allegations are too easily disproven if they’re not true; any lawyer with an IQ over room temperature would know not to pad the case with claims he couldn’t back up. Still, I suppose there may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for all this. If so, I stand ready to offer a retraction and an apology. Chances I’ll have to do that: roughly equal to the chances that the medal count at the upcoming Olympics will be dominated by Angola.

The lawsuit in question was actually filed several weeks ago, but I just became aware of it within the last 24 hours. Ironically—or perhaps not—two of the leading stories of the day tie in directly with the phenomena observed at Southern Columbia.

First (chronologically), there was the brouhaha engendered by the entirely unfunny “comedian” Daniel Tosh. True, there’s some dispute about exactly what transpired the other night, but whether “Breakfastcookie’s” account is entirely accurate or not, we end up at the same place for our present purposes. Does it matter whether Tosh introduced this apparently hilarious subject for a stand-up routine or if it was suggested by some jackass in the audience? The point is that someone, a male, no doubt, seems to find great hilarity in sexual assault. Big chuckles all around. Like Lindy West, whose commentary is the best I’ve read on the subject, I don’t proclaim that discussions of rape are inherently off-limits to comedians. But if you’re going to create a routine that’s actually funny to anyone above of the age of 14 (drunken frat boys excepted, as their mental age generally hovers at the border between single- and double-digits), you’d better not trivialize the experience of far too many women (and some men) in your audience. Context is all; Tosh certainly appears to be an insensitive boor… forgive me if I find my humor elsewhere.

The other, more major, story today concerns the release of the internal Penn State report on the Jerry Sandusky case by former FBI Director Louis Freeh. It shows, unsurprisingly, two things. First, there was a massive cover-up by not only former head football coach Joe Paterno and then-President Graham Spanier, but by a host of other minions, all more interested in protecting the reputation of the vaunted football program than of the dozen or more boys who suffered abuse at the hands of Jerry Sandusky after Penn State authorities knew exactly what he was up to.

Secondly, as even the not terribly bright guy on the sports radio show that came on while I was driving to lunch today could figure out, it was Paterno, not Spanier, who was really calling the shots. One of my dearest friends is now in the administration at Penn State—he went there long after Sandusky “retired” and before the… uh… fecal matter started flying. I don’t envy him the job of trying to restore credibility to an entire university tainted by the capitulation of the legitimate academic programming of an alleged institution of higher learning to an athletic program (specifically football in this case, but just as easily another sport) whose commitment to developing young adults was more a bumper-sticker aphorism than a statement of real conviction.

And so, we move an hour and a half east from State College, to where the six-time state champion football team means far more than the integrity of the school or the trivialized concerns of a rape victim, to where sexual assault is treated with good ol’ boy joviality, and to where I wouldn’t send a daughter of mine if I were held at gunpoint.

Southern Columbia seems more interested in being the Tigers than in being a school. To Principal Becker and everyone associated with the athletic program, especially the football coaches: enjoy your special Curmie. You truly are as embarrassing to the profession of education as it is possible to be. Congratulations, asshats.

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