ST. LOUIS (AP) - A suburban St. Louis school district is trying to end a spring tradition in which students have circulated a "senior list" in which female students are described in a sexually derogatory manner.
After reaching an agreement with federal officials following a complaint from a parent, the Ladue School District has warned students that anyone found to even possess a copy of a list this year will be suspended for three days. Students found to have created a list will face five-day suspensions and seniors won't be allowed to take part in graduation ceremonies, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (http://bit.ly/11Q7OoL ).
The senior list, which began several years ago, sometimes shows up at graduation rehearsals, on the seniors' last day of classes or in the cafeteria.
Ruth Ahlemeier, whose daughter was upset by the list, wasn't satisfied by the district's response to concerns over it, so she complained the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
"That's not a tradition we need," Ahlemeier said. "And the Office of Civil Rights agrees."
Under the agreement with federal investigators, the district agreed to focus on anti-harassment measures and to pay for counseling for the seven girls targeted last year, if they want it. Ladue also was required to discuss the senior list's origins with students and to impress upon them the consequences of circulating one.
The school held separate meetings for both the senior and junior classes last week to drive home the severity of the issue.
"We told the students we believe most would never participate in such an offensive activity," Principal Bridget Hermann wrote in a letter to parents. "However, when it occurs, it is a reflection on our entire school community. It is wrong and should not happen."
The district said it created a bullying hotline and took other steps before the federal investigation began.
The issue came to a head last year when junior boys at the school crafted vulgar and obscene descriptions of popular senior girls and distributed it at lunch. Ahlemeier said that when her daughter reported it, district officials responded that she could go home if she was upset.
Some of the students responsible for last year's list were identified and disciplined, the district said. Previously, the students have been successful in remaining anonymous, despite administrators' attempts to investigate.
Missy Combs, who graduated from Ladue High in 2008, said she was named on the list in 2007. She said she hoped Ahlemeier's efforts and the punitive measures that have been put in place will end what she called a "dark tradition."
"I think Ruth Ahlemeier should be viewed as a hero to every girl at Ladue," Combs said. "She brought the right kind of attention to the horrible "list' that every year would make girls embarrassed and scared to go to school."
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com