High school girl banned from STC graduation rites over Facebook ‘bikini photo’
For posing in a bikini, and posting photos in her Facebook account, a 16-year-old girl won’t be allowed to attend her graduation ceremony on Friday.
The punishment meted by St. Theresa’s College high school was called “too harsh” and “unjust” by her mother, a resident of Lapu-Lapu City, who sued officials of the private Catholic school.
Regional Trial Court Judge Wilfredo Navarro yesterday ordered the school to show him a copy of the photos, and the Student Handbook which bans several actions, including “engaging in immoral, indecent, obscene or lewd acts.”
“I will have my own standards on whether or not it is lewd,” said the judge in a court hearing on the mother's petition of injunction and damages.
His decision will have to be made soon if the student hopes to join her graduation class in marching up the stage to receive a diploma on March 30.
Cebu Daily News is withholding the identities of mother and daughter since the student is a minor.
The girl will be allowed to graduate but is barred from joining the commencement exercise on Friday.
The family’s lawyer Enrique Lacerna said the girl was photographed in a “family-related outing” and was “not given a chance to answer the allegations” when she was meted the sanctions in a notice last March 1.
The student was cited for violating five provisions in the STC Student Handbook, including a rule against “posing and uploading pictures on the Internet that entail ample body exposure.”
Lawyer Romeo Balili, counsel for STC, said the private school is just doing what is right in disciplining its students.
“STC is a Catholic school governed by the teachings of the Catholic Church. We have to see to it that values are formed,” Balili told reporters after the hearing.
“We are not happy with the penalty but we are forced to impose it because we have to form the values of children.”
Four other STC graduating students are barred from attending the commencement exercises on Friday for alleged violation of school’s rules.
Their lawyer Cornelio Mercado, said he will formally ask the court to allow them to intervene in the case.
“There were allegations (by school officials) that that there are photos showing the students wearing bikini tops and a towel,” Mercado said, including one wearing a sleeveless top with her bra visible during the Sinulog festival.
The girl’s mother is seeking the issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against school officials and damages for the “humiliation” suffered by her daughter.
Parties were given until today to submit their memorandum.
Named defendants were the STC High School Department represented by Sister Celeste Ma. Purisima Pe, the school principal; assistant principal Mussolini Yap; Marnie Racaza, moderator of student affairs; Kristine Rose Ligot, discipline in charge; and Edita Josephine Yu, homeroom adviser.
CDN yesterday called the STC faculty for comment but Mrs. Edisita Arnejo who answered the call said only the school’s lawyer was authorized to speak.
Based on the petition, the school issued a document “Probation: An Administrative Sanction for a Violation” which showed the alleged violations committed by the student based on the Student Handbook.
It was signed by the student with a promise not to commit the offenses again. Her mother signed “Conforme” to attest that the principal or discipline-in-charge “has conferred with me regarding my daughter's misdemeanor and the corresponding sanctions.”
Among the rules allegedly violated were: l. possession of alcoholic drinks outside the school campus 2. engaging in immoral, indecent, obscene or lewd acts 3. smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages in public places 4. apparel that exposes underwear and 5. posing and uploading pictures on the Internet that entail ample body exposure
As sanctions, the student was given a grade of D for “personality” for the 4th quarter which was later changed to C “for humanitarian reasons” and she was barred from joining the commencement exercise, and other school activities, functions and privileges like the Senior's Bash and practices for graduation.
Her lawyer said the Facebook account was “private” and limited to friends so school officials obtained information that was “not for public consumption.”
“A family or pirate social activity, such as birthday etc. does not involve the school’s supervision and control. The activity is permitted by the parents, who have the resources to support the activity’s expenses,” said the petition.
To add insult to injury, said the petition, the school principal said the “minor(s) will sit on the stage if they are forced to join in the graduation rites” or words to that effect.
The petition said the student has passed academic requirements and earned the right to join the March 30 commencement exercise.
It argued that the girl was not given due process with this “unjust grave sanction” and was humiliated.
“My client was bullied. It caused trauma on the child. Instead of honoring the school, the child got mad at the institution,” Lacerna said
He said the school should answer for the stigma suffered by the student for being banned from joining the commencement exercise.
He also said STC prevented the Department of Education from exercising its authority to review a grave sanction. He explained that under DepEd policy, when a student commits a serious offense, the school administration should file an administrative complaint against the concerned individuals. /Ador Vincent Mayol, Reporter