Credit: David Wood

By Shereen Siewert

KENOSHA — The American Civil Liberties Union is considering a lawsuit against the Kenosha School District connected to a March 2018 cheerleading squad award banquet that included a “Big Boobie” award for the girl with the biggest breasts and a “Big Booty” award for the girl with the largest backside.

The awards were given by coaches at Tremper High School in front of about 150 attendees. Other mock awards, which were also handed out in 2017, included a “string bean” award for the skinniest cheerleader and an award for the cheerleader who was the most “ditzy” teammate on the squad.

A parent reported that the coaches “laughed hysterically” when handing the “Big Boobie” award to its recipient and made comments on the microphone about “what a feat” it was that this student could maneuver through cheer routines with her “enormous boobs,” according to a letter from the ACLU sent Tuesday to Kenosha Unified School District. The letter represented a formal warning of a potential lawsuit in the case, alleging that the district “failed to take any meaningful corrective action” even after parents and teammates came forward with their concerns.

According to the ACLU’s letter, coaches hired by the district “engaged in impermissible sexual harassment, sex discrimination and body shaming” of cheerleaders at the annual awards events. The coaches continued to make inappropriate comments to the girls, including using “harassing language towards cheerleaders during practices.”

The organization is also concerned about public reports that educators at a nearby high school in the same district are “teaching students about sexual assault in a manner that inappropriately blames victims for their assaults.” In doing so, the ACLU said, the district is enabling sexual harassment and violating federal nondiscrimination and equal protection laws.

Parents and at least one other Tremper High School athletic coach contacted Tremper Principal, Steven Knecht, to report the incidents that arose at the March 2018 banquet. Through an open records request to KUSD, the ACLU obtained an email dated April 23, 2018 that another athletic coach sent to Mr. Knecht about the cheer banquet incident. The coach stated, “I feel that I need to tell you this for the protection of these girls . . . . I don’t think it takes much to see that this is extremely degrading to women.”

The same coach contacted one of the cheer coaches directly about her concerns on April 24, 2018. She wrote, “The last thing these high school girls need is a fellow woman in their lives communicating to them that they are objects or that their appearance is something to be gawked at, demeaned, laughed at, or even awarded for that matter.”

The cheer coach responded on April 26, 2018, “I honestly don’t feel that I need to explain myself about how we ran our banquet. Actually we have ran it this way for years and have never had a problem.”

In an April 28, 2018 email to the cheer coaches, Mr. Knecht stated that Tremper had received complaints about the awards from four different people and that he would launch an investigation into the allegations. After persistent follow up from one parent, Mr. Knecht reported he could find no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the coaches. Mr. Knecht did not provide this parent with any justification for his finding nor did he indicate to the parent which school policies or procedures he relied upon in conducting the alleged investigation, according to public documents obtained by the ACLU.

School human resources officials met with the coach on May 8, 2018 and directed her to submit her resignation by mid-June. But the coach refused to resign and continued to coach through the 2018-2019 season.

ACLU officials are asking the district to appropriately discipline coaches and to institute mandatory anti-harassment training for all district employees. The parent who reported the harassment to the ACLU said she “simply wanted these girls to be treated with respect,” according to a Feb. 19 New York Times story.

But ensuring that just became a little harder, the Times reports. Tremper High will hold this year’s cheerleading banquet next month, according to a coach’s note to the team. Only cheerleaders and coaches — no parents — are invited.