Kenosha Cheerleading Awards Controversy Prompts New Rules, Training

Mar 28, 2019

The Kenosha Unified School District is implementing new guidelines following controversy over cheerleading awards that objectified students' bodies. But the ACLU, which threatened legal action against the district, says it's not going far enough.

Kenosha was in the national spotlight after news broke that a Tremper High School cheerleading coach gave students "big booty" and "big boobie" awards multiple years in a row.

After complaints, the coach apologized but continued in her job.

Emma Roth is with the American Civil Liberties Union Women's Rights Project.

"We've been investigating sex discrimination in Kenosha for over a year now," Roth says. "[We've] interviewed many students and families throughout the district, and have found that what happened at the cheer ceremony is not an isolated incident."

In another recent incident, students in a Bradford High School health class were asked how a woman in a movie could have prevented her sexual assault. Student Haven Eigenberger, a sophomore, was in that class.

"One of the questions was really victim-blaming," she says. "And it just shocked me, because I hadn't seen anything like that at Bradford before."

Eigenberger showed the assignment to her mother, who posted a picture on Facebook, which went viral. The school then removed the assignment from the curriculum.

"One of the questions was really victim-blaming. And it just shocked me, because I hadn't seen anything like that at Bradford before," says Bradford High School Sophomore Haven Eigenberger.

The ACLU says the health assignment and cheer awards reflect a school district culture permissive of discrimination against female students.

It threatened legal action unless the district took steps to change the culture. This week, some of the school district's plans in response to the demands became public, as first reported by FOX6 TV. In particular, the district is implementing a new awards policy.

Superintendent Sue Savaglio-Jarvis sent a memorandum to administrators and principals with new guidelines. Teachers and coaches are now required to get written permission from supervisors when they want to give students awards. Mock awards are prohibited, such as those that highlighted cheerleaders' body parts.

The district is also holding three mandatory anti-discrimination trainings for certain employees, including coaches and principals. Spokesperson Tanya Ruder says the district plans to conduct training for all staff in the future. 

"It is our sincere hope that by outlining expectations and providing ongoing training to our staff we can avoid further issues of any kind," Ruder said in a written statement. 

The ACLU's Roth says the trainings and awards policy are good first steps, but not comprehensive enough. 

"We think they need to commit to greater action moving forward to really eradicate harassment and sex discrimination within the district," Roth says. She says the ACLU will cotinue to monitor developments in Kenosha.

This story has been updated with the Kenosha Unified School District's response. 

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