A male student at Oak Park and River Forest High School, believed to have created a list ranking girls on their physical appearance and sexual experience, has been identified and will face “appropriate consequences” that could include expulsion. According to a source close to the school, this is not the first such incident involving this particular student.

The list, discovered by school officials last Friday, was circulated in printed copies around the building by the student and on Facebook. OPRF will not publicly identify the student, only saying that he is a male. The list ranked 50 female students, mostly juniors, on how they look and on alleged sexual experience. A parent of one of the girls filed a complaint with Oak Park police on Monday. Cmdr. LaDon Reynolds of the Investigations Division said police are still investigating the matter but a disorderly conduct report has been completed. Reynolds said police were made aware of the list last Friday. He stressed that this incident was primarily a school matter but the police are working with the school and parents during the investigation.

This is the second time in the last two years that such a list has surfaced at OPRF.

In spring 2009, a male student created a “Class of 2012: Top 45” list of freshman girls. The female students were named and ranked by their appearance, including details about body features, along with other derogatory comments. The student who created it was expelled for a period of time and later allowed to return to school, according to the source who wished to remain anonymous.

Kay Foran, the school’s spokesperson, would not confirm if the same male student created both lists. But the source, an OPRF parent but not of any of the girls ranked, said it was the same student. That student has not been allowed back in school after this recent list was discovered by staff last Friday. Foran did say the student would face appropriate consequences per the school’s code of conduct. Cyber-bullying, bullying and sexual harassment are Class 3 infractions in the code of conduct. The range of consequences can include expulsion.

Foran said the school takes such infractions, including the creation of the list, “very, very seriously” and called the conduct involved “totally unacceptable” as stated in the code of conduct.

The school did not contact police about the list, Foran said, but OPRF’s school resource officers (SROs) — who are also Oak Park police officers — were made aware of this incident.

Reynolds said he reviewed the list and found it reprehensible. He adds that the list constitutes “disorderly conduct,” which involves an action knowingly done to alarm or disturb another.

“At the very least, this has occurred,” he said, adding that the investigation will help determine appropriate police action in this matter because it involves a juvenile offender.

Student caught on cell phone video

The male student was also recorded on a cell phone video by another student during lunch time last Friday in either the student center or cafeteria, delivering a public tirade about women having too much power. Foran said one of the deans was given a copy of the video. School staff, she said, became aware of the list, found several copies and confiscated them. The student was identified later in the day Friday. The school also contacted the families of the girls named and made counselors available to talk with them.

“The parents of the students affected were contacted, and we continued conversations with them and other students,” Foran said. “We’re always open to that and are acutely aware of the need to do that for those students.”

Foran added that the school is considering having a public forum to involve all students to talk about bullying and respecting one another — the school does have educational programs in place already addressing those issues, she noted.

As to what would motivate this student, or any other, to create such a list and distribute it in print or online, Foran noted that technology can be used for good and bad and that this was a situation involving the latter.

The anonymous source said the male student has some personal issues though that doesn’t excuse the behavior. The source also talked with some of the girls on the list and reported that all are angry and embarrassed about being on it.

According to a rumor the parent heard, the offending student was already leaving for another school and his public rant on Friday might have been a final rebellious act. The girls spoken about are so embarrassed they don’t even want their parents involved in the situation, the source said.

“It’s that painful, that they don’t even want their mothers to know about it.”

‘If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it online’

Margo Bristow, OPRF’s substance abuse counselor who also deals with cyber-bullying among students, said kids like the male student don’t understand the harm they can do to others online.

She alluded to the film The Social Network about the creation of Facebook. The popular site began with a similar list ranking Harvard female students, which was also highlighted in the film. Bristow doesn’t think the student was influenced by the film but students like him tend to be more bold online than in person.

“It’s happening because kids don’t have filters,” she said. “They don’t see it as bullying because to them it’s tongue-in-cheek, and a joke, until someone gets hurt.

“You don’t see a physical reaction or visceral feeling when someone is hurt,” she added. “I always tell them: ‘If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it online.'”

Bristow gives presentations on cyber-bullying to freshmen boys and girls who take mandatory social behavior classes at OPRF. One issue that the list highlights is the dehumanization of women and objectifying them. That issue also comes up in Bristow’s classroom talks and counseling.

The offending student likely is influenced by certain music that sexually objectifies women, said Bristow, stressing that not all kids have this mindset, and those who do typically get noticed. She said objectification is more a symptom of the culture than the schools.

“It’s women being sexualized and not seen as an individual. They’re reduced to a body or an action. It’s normal for them,” she said of those with that mindset.

More education, especially from home, can help address the issue, she said.

Letter from OPRF

Jan. 18, 2011– Notice to parents/guardians:

I want to bring you up to date on the incident involving the creation and distribution of an inappropriate “ranking list” of 50 OPRFHS female students. About mid-day Friday, staff learned that print copies of a list had been distributed at school and also was posted widely on Facebook. We immediately sent out an all-staff communication seeking help in confiscating all print copies; helping any students on the list receive necessary support; sharing any information that might help determine who was responsible, and reiterating our fundamental expectations about respect and care for others. Thanks to our faculty’s and staff’s prompt action, by the end of day Friday we were able to identify the student we believe responsible for creating and disseminating the list. We also became aware that this same student had delivered an impromptu speech during a Friday lunch period referencing a need to curtail women’s power. As he took a bow, some students applauded. This incident was recorded on a student’s cell phone and subsequently made available to deans.

Our counselors have met with and/or contacted by phone all students named on the list and a parent/guardian. Throughout the weekend, we were in contact with parents/students who had questions or sought additional information or support. Administration, faculty and staff remain open to meeting with and/or discussing this issue and any related concerns with any parent/guardian and student.

Although we have identified the student and the student’s identity is known to many, the school may not identify or share any personal information about the student — including whether a student has been the subject of prior disciplinary actions — due to privacy mandates regarding student information and records. The media are not under such constraints; we are.

We can say without hesitation that the school does not tolerate bullying, slurs, sexual harassment or demeaning or disrespectful behavior toward anyone. We take this incident very seriously. Bullying, cyber-bullying, technology misconduct and sexual harassment are Class III infractions under our Code of Conduct, with consequences up to and including expulsion. A similar incident two years ago resulted in a student’s expulsion for a year. (Note: providing expelled students meet all academic and behavior requirements throughout the term of their expulsion, they may be eligible to return to OPRF upon completion of the expulsion.)

Police have told us that the school does not have standing to pursue charges in this matter – i.e. we are not the victim. We have discussed this issue with our School Resource Officers, and both Village police departments are aware of this situation and are examining what action may be appropriate if they are contacted by families.

Perhaps it is telling that this incident has unfolded at the same time that the movie, “Social Network,” just won numerous awards at last night’s Golden Globe Awards. Chronicling the development of the online social networking site, Facebook, one of the movie’s early scenes shows Harvard students, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, huddling around a computer that displays an online prototype program they’ve developed that “rates” female students. Like it or not, social networking sites and numerous other online technologies are now a pervasive part of our children’s landscape and culture. In general, these technologies are tools and resources for the good when used responsibly and safely. They can do great harm and cause great hurt when used irresponsibly. We have learned that this list was widely available on Facebook and most likely continues to have some online presence. This online dissemination of the list did not occur using school equipment or resources.

Please reiterate to your students that whether online or in person, our individual choices and actions – whatever the medium – impact others and have real life consequences. Whether it’s face-to-face or Facebook, each student makes personal choices about who they will “friend” and what information they will seek out and share with and about each other. We are very proud of the actions and words of many of our students who helped confiscate the list, pointed out where it could be found online, and have spoken out with conviction and wisdom to the media about the pain this incident has caused classmates and the unacceptability of such behavior.

Instituted last year, the school does incorporate responsible use of technology education into our curriculum:

  • 9th graders receive information in Physical Education classes (click here for the Power Point outline), as well as a library orientation given to all 9th grade English classes (i.e. encompassing all 9th graders);
  • 10th graders are to receive information in the all school (PSAE) testing session in April. 
  • 11th graders receive information via counseling program and college/career orientation meetings (related to application process, as much of this is done online now.)
  • 12th – via information related to senior behavior expectation — graduation/commencement/prom expectations.

We have already discussed that we will take this opportunity to review and strengthen these plans, as well as seek an effective format to reinforce broader lessons of respect and good decision making sometime 2nd semester.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts that our counselors and resource managers have put together to help our students, families and school community work through this incident during this important week of final exams and throughout the semester to come:

• Please continue to reaffirm that anyone can report any issues of concern to counselors, deans, resource managers or any faculty or staff member. We want our students’ concerns to be heard so they receive the support, interventions or consequences that are needed and appropriate.

• Begin redirecting talk about the list incident and its specifics into broader, constructive discussions about respect for all others and responsibility for individual choices and actions. Keeping the focus on the list continues to give it greater power than it already has and risks further traumatizing students affected directly and delaying their ability to move forward and redefine this incident on their own terms.

• Focus on helping students develop empathy by talking about any time anyone has been disrespected, singled out, bullied, or treated differently than others and how that made your student feel.

• Discuss how we all can make a difference through our actions and words that demonstrate acceptance and support of all others.

• Use the timing of Dr. Martin Luther King Day to highlight how others have dedicated themselves to working for equal rights, acceptance of all, and prevention of hate: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Please let me or any of us know if you have any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Nathaniel L. Rouse, Principal

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