For those of us who were not cheerleaders, the athleticism, acceptance, and popularity of that high school existence may have seemed to be the ultimate way to get through what can be the worst four years of our life. But this isn't the way it was for a student cheerleader from Texas known only by the press and the courts as H.S.
In October 2008, H.S. was a 16-year-old high school student in her hometown in southeast Texas. Then, as she says, she was raped at a party by another student -- a star football player and member of the school's basketball team. Four months later, at a basketball game in another town, H.S. chose to stay silent while the rest of her squad chanted his name.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that, although she cheered for the team as a whole, when the assailant went to the foul line, she opted out. Three school officials, including the principal and district superintendent, intervened, insisting that she cheer for the athlete or leave the game. She didn't budge, and her refusal to root for the boy she says raped her had a high cost.
The athlete she accused had some consequences. After H.S. identified him, he pled guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge. Nearly a year after the party, he was given a suspended sentence.
H.S., however, was kicked off the cheerleading squad. This spurred the former cheerleader and her parents to sue the school district and officials, claiming she had the right to free speech and was unfairly punished for using it.
The courts -- all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court -- did not agree. The rhetoric that emerged in those rulings is shocking. A New Orleans appeals court stated that, as a cheerleader, H.S. was a "mouthpiece" for the school. Monday, the highest court in the country also ruled against H.S.'s appeal. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, review of the of the case was denied by the Supreme Court without comment. H.S. and her parents are also ordered to pay the school district's $45,000 legal tab.
The family's attorney called the school's demands of H.S. "insensitive and unreasonable" and questions what this ruling means for students' free speech.
Several questions clearly remain:
What happened to the athlete who now has a criminal record? Was he stripped of his place (and star status) on the teams for violating any kind of school or athlete conduct code?
Are cheerleaders or any high schooler on a team or in a club or holding a student government office only seen as "mouthpieces" for the school? Isn't the point of being a yearbook staff or senior class president or athletic team member to learn new skills, strive for excellence, and put both into action? And doesn't a part of that process (and a part of teen development) include individuation, assertion of opinion, investigating participating systems, and even calling into question authority figures (be it parents or principals or the football coaches)?
Who ultimately taught this young woman, now three years older, the biggest lesson? Was it the school district? The courts? Or her parents?
Read more on Shine:
- What does the redefinition of rape mean for women?
- Kara DioGuardi speaks out
- Sexual assault on college campuses