Spy Kids: We're Snooping on Students to Stop Them From Snooping on Each Other

Spy Kids: We're Snooping on Students to Stop Them From Snooping on Each Other


In fall 2012, a rattled ninth-grade girl came into the assistant principal's office at Albany High — a small public school in an East Bay suburb near Berkeley — with the type of complaint that ninth-grade girls have voiced since time immemorial: An 11th grader was hitting on her. At first, she was flattered. She flirted back. The idea of dating an upperclassman seemed titillating, a kind of status symbol.

Then, through a series of conversations that must have occurred offline, the 11th grader made clear that their relationship was a ruse. That, in fact, he and a group of friends were conspiring in something that upperclassmen boys have done since time immemorial: holding a competition to see who could have sex with the most freshman girls. They bragged about their exploits on Facebook and Twitter. They called it the Underclassman Bitch League.

Students at Buena Vista Horace Mann don skirts for Sasha Fleischman.
Rachel Swan
Students at Buena Vista Horace Mann don skirts for Sasha Fleischman.
Lawrence and Sheila Pott remember their daughter.
Rachel Swan
Lawrence and Sheila Pott remember their daughter.

Assistant Principal Susan Charlip (who, full disclosure, was my English teacher at Albany High) had to investigate. "So I would read these kids' Twitter pages until I understood what the terms meant," she says now, a year later. "They were basically inappropriate comments about — how do I say this? — sexual habits, interests, and, uh — proclivities." Members of the Bitch League quoted rap lyrics, bragged about sexual positions, and philosophized about "bitches." They posted pictures of themselves drinking Bombay Sapphire gin.

"I mean, if that's what you're into, then more power to you," Charlip says. "But do you really want people to read that?"

It didn't take a ton of sleuthing to identify the six main Bitch League conspirators. Most of them went by their real names on social media, and even the ones who had avatars often posted real pictures of themselves. Some of them were top students — the kind who got courted by colleges and spoke at public events, and generally saw themselves as beyond reproach.

"So I talked to the girls, and I talked to the boys, and they all started talking to each other," Charlip recalls. "And one of the boys changed his Twitter name to 'Ms. Charlip' as a form of protest. I spent a lot of time in this underworld of their stupidity."

In the end, though, she wasn't able to punish the boys for besmirching the girls' reputations, or the girls for becoming accomplices in their own exploitation. Technically, the whole incident had occurred outside of school grounds. And the extent to which it bled into classroom life, either as mere distraction or as reason for kids to be jeered, was difficult to determine.

After calling the kids into her office repeatedly and notifying their parents, Charlip felt she'd exhausted all disciplinary measures. She handed out copies of the school's sexual harassment policy and advised everyone to set their accounts to private — mostly for their own good. College admissions officers look at this stuff, after all.

The Underclassman Bitch League scandal happened at a particularly inopportune time for Albany High School. Students and teachers were still reeling from an even more bruising incident. In October 2012, the dimpled, well-liked, 28-year-old middle school teacher James Izumizaki hanged himself with a necktie after two students alleged that he had been sexually abusing them for months. His death created a huge rift in the small, affluent suburb, with some residents vehemently defending Izumizaki on social media, and others begging for sympathy toward the victims. News trucks were parked outside the school for days.

Administrators couldn't handle another media blitz. They chose to quietly break up the Bitch League without issuing any press releases or publicly chastening any students.

"I suppose I could have done more," Charlip says. "But it would have been a stretch under the law the way it was written." Most of the girls seemed rather sanguine — or at least smugly complacent — about their role in the sex league, and Charlip had trouble convincing some of them that a guy who posts these things about you isn't your boyfriend. Within a few weeks, the whole thing blew over.

Around the same time that year, a similar scandal erupted at a nearby school in another tony East Bay suburb. Piedmont High's "Fantasy Slut League" arose when several male varsity athletes began keeping score of their exploits with female students, many of whom were unwitting draftees. The game was exposed during a school date-rape assembly in October, which inspired a scorching letter to parents from Principal Rich Kitchens. Though Piedmont administrators never punished the participants and no criminal charges were filed, the story ultimately became national news. (The Albany High league was apparently an attempt to emulate Piedmont.)

Commentators in the media often expressed more shock at Piedmont High's administrative inaction than the more humdrum revelation that upperclass boys prey on underclass girls. But what really made the sex league stories salacious — and disquieting — was their public nature. The boys at Piedmont had broadcast their stats online, much the way players tout wins in a fantasy sports league. Similarly, the Albany fiasco had occurred, in large part, over Facebook and Twitter. Whatever sex acts had happened seemed inconsequential compared to the online spread of degradation and public shaming and braggadocio.

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7 comments
goodnbad
goodnbad

The only way to put a stop to the whole world watching everyone do everything, is to unplug!  The lid to Pandora's box has been blown off, if we want really want to put the genie back in the bottle, then we must break the bottle, too.

If you know the story about Eve taking a bite of the apple, than you know how the story ends.

John LaForgia
John LaForgia

"I'm sorry but your attacks on Porter are rather uncalled for. And might even be constructed as cyber-bullying, you even resorted to name-calling." Well, too bad for you. According to you Porter (and you), I can say whatever I want on the internet and it's not my fault if it makes you angry and I should not be held responsible for your feelings. Even though, in a fight on the schoolyard, every teachers first question would be "who started it?" Internet is just a bigger schoolyard. Now *that* is trolling.

John LaForgia
John LaForgia

A few high profile, isolated instances? Blowing it out of proportion? There shouldn't be any instances. Reach as far as they want. Damn well better be keeping my kids (and all others, even from them selves) safe any way they possible can during the time she's at school and, if it helps, even after school. None if this hiding behind free speech crap, either, when it comes to children's online time. Also, "A kid might be culpable for any nasty text messages he writes, Porter says, but he's not responsible for the recipient who keeps looking at them and getting more and more upset." Porter, you're an idiot.

makalatis
makalatis

I'm sorry but your attacks on Porter are rather uncalled for.

And might even be constructed as cyber-bullying, you even resorted to name-calling.


You can't shut children away from the internet. Well, you can. But you shouldn't.

It is one of the staples of our modern society and learning how to deal with it correctly is a critical life skill.

Am I condoning the writing of nasty text messages? No.

But it's no different than passing nasty notes in class, or harassing somebody by putting a hatefilled letter in their mailbox.


The separation between school and elsewhere gets muddled and this makes these forms of communication a tricky subject to handle for the schools, which Rachel Swan covered very nicely.


Your reaction comes across as a knee-jerk reflex to protect your children.

This is both logical and admirable, but it is misdirected.

Bullying is a terrible thing, but it is not endemic to social media or "digital communication" in general, and keeping your children away from this will only single them out.

jklaforgia
jklaforgia

"I'm sorry but your attacks on Porter are rather uncalled for.

And might even be constructed as cyber-bullying, you even resorted to name-calling.

"

Well, too bad for you. According to you Porter (and you), I can say whatever I want on the internet and it's not my fault if it makes you angry and I should not be held responsible for your feelings. Even though, in a fight on the schoolyard, every teachers first question would be "who started it?" Internet is just a bigger schoolyard.

Now *that* is trolling.

makalatis
makalatis

@jklaforgiaI did not post that to "win" this comment section, but rather to give some counter-weight to what was then the only comment on an article I agree with.


You actually raise a valid point though, the internet IS just a bigger school yard, but it's not affiliated with your children's school in any way, shape or form. Responsibility for proper conduct should therefore, as with almost any other time, lie with the child itself and its parents / guardians.

 

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