Ah, springtime -- flowers are blooming, birds are singing...vicious, slut-shaming lists are being written?
It's been about a year since the last "Senior List" was passed around the halls of Ladue Horton Watkins High School. Next to the name of seven graduating senior girls was an insult -- some for sexual promiscuity, one for being an "alcoholic" and getting DUIs, another for having bad teeth.
This year, after one mom helped launch an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, the district is hoping the list is dead.
"I think everyone has their fingers crossed that the kids are smart enough to know this is not OK," says Susan Dielmann, the Ladue District's director of communications.
After Ruth Ahlemeier's daughter found her name on the 2012 list, the Ladue business-owner began a months-long correspondence with the school, trying to find out why her daughter was allegedly told there was "nothing much the school can do." Two junior boys responsible for the list were ultimately punished, but Ahlemeier told Daily RFT at the time that the district was giving her the brush-off. She decided to file a formal complaint with the Kansas City Office of Civil Rights.
"Ladue was a little bit in denial," says Ahlemeier today. "Once the Office of Civil Rights got involved, Ladue started really cooperating and realizing they needed to make a change."
On March 20, Ahlemeier received a letter from the OCR telling her the investigation was complete and that an agreement had been reached with the district to address her charge that the school "discriminated against your daughter and other female students on the basis of sex by allowing them to be subjected to a sexually hostile environment at the high school and failing to take prompt and effective action to remedy sexual harassment."
Continue for the full terms of the agreement between Ladue and the Department of Education.
The "voluntary agreement" with Ladue stipulates that the district will offer counseling to the girls named in the 2012 list, issue a statement in the district newsletter warning students about the possibility of suspension or expulsion for creating a "hostile environment based on sex," offer sexual harassment training to the students and administrators, and establish a student committee to "provide a forum for students to discuss matters concerning discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex." The full text of the agreement is posted below.
"We have been working diligently all year on this," says Dielmann. "We've put in place a lot of anti-bullying programs."
While Dielmann takes issue with the way the list has been portrayed in the media ("I think there's a little exaggeration going on, that this is a tradition. Over the course of some years it happened, some years it doesn't, some years it's boys, and some years it's teachers,") she says the students are now "well-versed" when it comes to understanding why the list-making has to stop.
Ahlemeier says she is pleased with the result of the investigation and that she's now putting her efforts behind the anti-bullying bill currently making its way through the state legislature, House Bill 134. The law would require all Missouri schools to have an anti-bullying policy and a clear procedure for investigating bullying allegations. Read the full language here.
"Not everybody has the time to get the OCR involved," she says. "The kids in the Ladue district are benefiting...all the kids from Missouri could benefit from [HB 134]."
As for her own daughter, Ahlemeier reports she is now a happy college freshman.
Read the whole agreement between the district and the Office of Civil Rights below:
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.