ACLU: Kenosha schools moving in 'right direction' after cheer banquet allegations

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Kenosha Unified School District has banned objectifying cheer banquet awards and mandated training on discrimination and harassment following an American Civil Liberties Union threat to sue over such practices at Tremper High School.

"It is important for you to remember that student discrimination and harassment takes many forms," wrote district superintendent Dr. Sue Savaglio-Jarvis in a letter to school principals and administrators last week, making clear that can include "awards given at a student athletic banquet."

Savaglio-Jarvis added "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," going on to say "faculty and staff will face disciplinary action" for such actions.

After learning of KUSD's district-wide memorandum, ACLU women's rights project attorney Emma Roth said the following in an emailed statement:

"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...It's important that KUSD not use a Band-Aid to cover up a systemic problem. We urge the district to hold trainings for all employees on an ongoing basis and address these issues on a holistic level, rather than treat each individual incident in a piecemeal fashion. The ACLU will monitor the implementation of these new policies and trainings moving forward."

That February 2019 ACLU letter to school district officials accused Tremper High School's cheer coaches of objectifying girls at the March 2018 banquet by giving out "Big Boobie," "String Bean," and "Big Booty" awards.

The ACLU's concerns, however, went beyond the 2018 event. The organization's letter said "Tremper Cheer coaches have regularly engaged in harassing language towards the cheerleaders during practices."

KUSD Chief Communications Officer Tanya Ruder emailed a statement to ABC 7 Thursday, saying, "Kenosha Unified recognizes our 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. 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."

Asked by email if the her team still plans to file a lawsuit against KUSD, an ACLU spokeswoman replied "I am uncertain what our next steps will be."
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