Westport students punished for offensive Facebook group posts
WESTPORT — In the midst of a divisive presidential campaign where insults and derogatory remarks were the norm, some Westport teenagers took to social media to air similar thoughts.
A private Staples High School Facebook group of about 200 students, circulating offensive and defamatory memes pertaining to gender, race and religion, was called to the attention of the administration on Nov. 7.
Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer said a group of concerned students alerted the administration about the group because it “violated the core beliefs of our district.”
The Facebook group was immediately taken down and “appropriate consequences were given to those involved,” she said. Any of the students “directly involved and active” in the group were assigned community service.
“Some of the students felt it was political satire, but it went beyond that,” Palmer said. “There were some statements in there that targeted gender, certain religious groups, targeted certain ethnic backgrounds. There were various statements where a lot of the content was extracted (from) other sites and posted on the Facebook group.”
Palmer refused to say whether any students were suspended and did not answer what grade levels the group included or was limited to, simply repeating, “appropriate consequences were given to those involved.”
The administration did reach out to the families of any student who was involved to make sure they understood the effect of posting such material online.
In an email to the Staples community, Principal James D’Amico explained how he told the student body it is crucial for everyone in the community to “feel more empowered to be upstanders in the face of hurtful speech toward others.”
D’Amico maintained there was no bullying aimed at specific individuals, adding the school will move to engage students by discussing the school district’s guiding principles: being socially and emotionally aware, sincere kindness, principled thought and action and a constant state of learning.
According to a report from The Detroit News, students at Royal Oak Middle School in Michigan started chanting “Build that wall,” a day after Trump was elected — a reference to Trump’s pledge to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to stop the flow of illegal immigration.
The Washington Post and other news organizations reported and posted video about an incident in which two students carried a Trump campaign sign through the hallways at York County (Pa.) School as another student, according to police, shouted, “white power.”
On the campaign trail, Trump stirred up support from white nationalists, prompting others to fear his tenure. He also called for a ban on Muslims entering the country.
The Staples student newspaper, Inklings, ran a story detailing reactions from students ranging from “shock and despair” to “euphoria” at Trump’s election.
“As a woman, I am having trouble coming to terms with the fact that I need to survive four years of Trump’s presidency,” Zoe Hulina, a junior, told Inklings. “He has openly admitted and bragged about sexually assaulting women, called women he doesn’t like fat, ugly pigs, and believes that women who have abortions should be punished.”
In his email, D’Amico said the election had taken a toll, and the principal said counselors would continue to be on hand for students who want to talk about it.
“If that were to happen, counselors have to allow a person to express their feelings and to help them verbalize the impact it’s having on them,” said Mecca, a certified school social worker with 17 years of experience in public schools. “We would be skilled enough to help them label their feeling and then help lead them to what they would do, in terms of making efforts to move from feeling a certain way to feeling more empowered, so that they would feel secure and comfortable in their present environment.”
He added that student leadership groups, of which Staples has many, play a helpful role in fostering a safe climate for students in the sense that they can work to define what their high school’s climate is.