Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Texas High School Insists You Cheer For Rapists

A high school cheerleader ("H.S.") at Silsbee High School in Texas was kicked off her squad for refusing to chant the name of the athlete she said had raped her. The girl reported being raped in 2008 by Rakheem Bolton, a varsity basketball player, with the help of two of his friends. Bolton did not serve any jail time by pleading guilty to a lesser assault charge, spending two years on probation, doing community service, paying a fine, and attending anger management courses.

Her problems aren't over: besides having to go to school with her rapist, the school insisted that as a cheerleader, H.S. has no right to refuse to cheer for Bolton. She says she fulfilled her duty by cheering for the team, but simply refused to shout "Rakheem" while he made free throws. School officials demanded that she conform or be dismissed from the squad.

The girl and her parents sued the school for violating her right to freedom of expression, but the 5th circuit's opinion backed up the school: "In her capacity as cheerleader, H.S. served as a mouthpiece through which SISD could disseminate speech — namely, support for its athletic teams.” Her protest also “constituted substantial interference with the work of the school because, as a cheerleader, H.S. was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily.” Yesterday, she lost her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and federal courts have also ordered her and her parents to reimburse the district more than $45,000 for the costs of defending against a frivolous suit.

There are many upsetting factors in this case. The idea that cheerleaders serve only as "mouthpieces of the school" - robots used to constantly shout out encouraging exclamations - is degrading to the women who consider their sport athletic - tumbling, gymnastics, dance, and competition. Is one girl who remains silent really causing "substantial interference?" Where is the community support for the girl - shouldn't we all be silent for Bolton?

Even more upsetting is the behavior of the adults behavior and reactions in this case. The district superintendent, his assistant and the school principal told H.S. to shape up or ship out, and while she's at it, "to keep a low profile, such as avoiding the school cafeteria and not taking part in homecoming activities." Lawsuit aside, where are these officials getting their sensitivity training? The stakes are far higher than that of a basketball game. This girl will be dealing with emotional suffering from this assault for the rest of her life. Could school officials have less concern for her well-being in the matter?

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