Explicit ranking of high school girls sparks outrage in Mt. Lebanon

‘Top 25′ list details students’ looks, bodies

By Mary Niederberger and Nikki Schwab, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Mt. Lebanon School District and Mt. Lebanon police are investigating the distribution of an anonymous document that features sexually explicit descriptions of 25 girls at the high school.

The document, titled "Top 25 in 2006," ranks the girls in order from one to 25. It includes their names, grade levels and photos.

Each girl is assigned a letter grade for her breasts, buttocks and face, followed by a brief description of each girl in crude and vulgar terms.

There are references to girls performing oral sex and comments about their height and weight.

One girl, an entry said, "seemed to be a very consistent candidate among the ballots of the males, her consistency allowed her to achieve top 10 status."

There is one instance where a description ridicules a girl’s ethnic heritage. All of the girls in the "top 25" are sophomores, juniors and seniors.

"I think that it’s outrageous, the equivalent of a written rape on our daughter," said the father of one girl, who didn’t want his name published to protect his daughter’s identity.

He and another parent said they are frustrated that the district hasn’t disciplined the students who created the publication.

The second father said he has done some investigating and talked to students, including his children, who told him that ballots to choose the "Top 25" were circulated at high school basketball games and that students had been seen reading the list in the school cafeteria.

He said he embarked on his investigation after Mt. Lebanon High School Principal Zeb Jansante told him that the list was not a district matter because none of the activities involved with it took place on school grounds.

Contacted last night, however, Dr. Jansante denied that he told the parent it was not a district matter. He said the information he had at the time indicated that the document was not created on school grounds. Dr. Jansante said he turned over the information that the father gathered to the district’s investigating committee.

Several parents learned of the list earlier this month after it circulated as an e-mail. It was brought to the attention of Mt. Lebanon Superintendent George Wilson on April 6 by a parent who provided him with a hard copy of the document the next day, said district spokeswoman Cissy Bowman.

Dr. Wilson could not be reached for comment because he is out of town. But Ms. Bowman said the superintendent immediately contacted the Mt. Lebanon police and asked for a criminal investigation.

The police conducted their investigation during the week of April 9, but reported back that they could find no basis for criminal charges, Ms. Bowman said. On April 17, Dr. Wilson initiated a district investigation into the publication. The investigation is being conducted by members of the school district administration.

Ms. Bowman said district officials interviewed several students on April 17, but would not elaborate. "The investigation is ongoing. We don’t have a final report," she said.

Mt. Lebanon Police Chief Thomas A. Ogden Jr. said the "Top 25" list is "in very poor taste," but that his department could not substantiate that any crime had been committed. He said the only crime that his department or the district attorney’s office could possibly connect to the list would be if it were mailed or e-mailed to the homes of the girls on the list.

"Then it might be harassment by communication and even then we would have to have a victim willing to testify," the chief said. As far as his investigation determined, the list was not sent to any of the girls.

The chief said he is still looking into the possibility of filing charges over the ethnic comments made about one of the girls.

Chief Ogden said his department’s investigation is still open, but at a standstill unless new information is received. He also said it appears that this may not be the first year for the Top 25 list since there are references in some of the descriptions about the girls moving up or down on the list.

School Board President Joseph Rodella said he has heard from a number of parents about the publication but that he is trying to stay away from the details of the investigation because if disciplinary action is taken against students and it rises to the level of an expulsion, the school board sits as a jury to hear the case against the student.

As for the publication itself, he said: "This is reprehensible, deplorable. There is not a single typed phrase in there that does not disgust me. There is no way we could take this lightly and we don’t."

School Director Mark Hart released a statement via e-mail yesterday calling for the board to vote on the termination of the district’s superintendent, high school principal, director of human resources, director of communication and solicitor for their parts in the handling of the investigation.

Mr. Hart said he has heard from a number of parents of girls who are on the Top 25 list and that he believes the district should have taken swift action on the issue.

"The families in our community should expect protection and help when they’re hurt. Instead, our administration and some board members ignore our problems and try to cover them up," he said.

None of the other school directors contacted by the Post-Gazette joined in Mr. Hart’s call for terminations. School Director Carol Walton declined comment, echoing Mr. Rodella’s stance that board members may have to sit in judgment over the students involved.

School Director Alan Silhol and Dan Remely heard about it last Thursday. Both said they wanted to get all of the facts before commenting further.

"Something is definitely going to be done," Mr. Silhol said.

Dr. Jansante said the district is examining to see whether the publication violates the district’s sexual harassment policy. He also said the investigation could wrap up by the end of the week.

Anyone with information is asked to call the superintendent’s office.

We welcome any information that anyone might have that is not hearsay," Dr. Jansante said. "They can call the superintendent’s office and they will be directed to the appropriate people."

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