KENOSHA — The Kenosha Unified School District is imposing strict guidelines after parents complained to the American Civil Liberties Union about a cheerleader banquet that included awards mocking girls’ bodies.
In response, the ACLU said the district is on the right path, but needs to do more to “address the underlying culture that led to the incidents.”
The district is now requiring principals to follow a new process that eliminates “mock awards of any kind,” according to a memorandum issued March 25 by Unified Superintendent Sue Savaglio-Jarvis, as administrators began undergoing anti-discrimination and harassment training.
The memorandum was obtained March 28 by the Kenosha News.
According to the new process, all awards and the criteria for them must be approved by the principal and chief of school leadership at least four weeks in advance. The only exception is students earning “letters” for their performance, according to the memo.
Any awards given that were not previously approved would result in possible discipline, including termination, according to the memo.
Last month, the ACLU, after nearly a yearlong investigation, notified Unified that awards given at the cheerleader banquet were forms of harassment and body shaming and should not be tolerated.
The awards in question recognized cheerleaders with the biggest butt and breasts, as well as the thinnest cheerleader.
In the memorandum, Savaglio-Jarvis told administrators and supervisors they need to be “vigilant about supervising and monitoring activities of faculty and staff so as to ensure that they are not engaged in actions that constitute student discrimination or harassment.”
Administrators have undergone mandatory training about bullying, harassment and hate. Savaglio-Jarvis has said such training would start at the top and then would be expected to be extended later to employees and staff.
“It is important for you to remember that student discrimination and harassment takes many forms,” Savaglio-Jarvis said in the memorandum. “In addition it can occur in all aspects of the curricular and extracurricular environment. It is imperative that you make clear to the faculty and staff, whom you supervise, that you will not tolerate actions that constitute student discrimination or harassment.
According to Unified’s attorneys Axley Brynnelson LLP, responding to the ACLU, the district will train all coaches, including cheerleader coaches, and athletic directors. The training will focus on discrimination, harassment and sensitivity.
The attorneys said the training is being provided to ensure that the awards, such as the ones given at the cheerleader banquet a year ago, do not happen again at any district banquet.
On March 28, the ACLU said the district’s actions were a step in the right direction.
“We are encouraged by KUSD’s commitment to taking seriously the sexist treatment of its students. We think this is a step in the right direction for a district plagued by sex discrimination and sexual harassment, but still, have questions about its plan to address the underlying culture that led to the incidents the ACLU described in its letter,” said Emma Roth, an attorney at the ACLU’s women’s rights project.
Roth said it was important that the district not use a “Band-Aid to cover up a systemic problem.”
She urged the district to train all employees on an ongoing basis and address these issues “on a holistic” rather than a piecemeal fashion.
Roth said the ACLU would continue to monitor the implementation of the new policies and training.
Tanya Ruder, Unified spokeswoman, said the district recognizes its obligation to provide students and staff “an environment free of discrimination and harassment, and realizes the issues brought forth are not acceptable.”
“It is our sincere hope that by outlining expectations and providing ongoing training to our staff we can avoid further issues of any kind. At this time, training has started with administration and coaches,” she said.
“Work to implement training for all staff is underway, and we appreciate our community’s understanding, patience and support in knowing that this is being done strategically to ensure a successful implementation that produces positive results.”