Friday, January 12, 2007

When The Inmates Popular Kids Run The Asylum

I knew that sooner or later we'd have to get around to the soap opera story of that Texas high school that was being run by its varsity cheerleader squad:
Jan. 15, 2007 issue - One photograph shows a cheerleader in a risqué pose, offering a glimpse of her panties. Another features a bikini-clad teen sharing a bottle of alcohol with a friend. Posted on, the girls in these pictures were cheerleaders from McKinney North High School in Texas, engaging in behavior you'd expect from a "Girls Gone Wild" video. The most infamous photo of all: five smiling cheerleaders in a Condoms to Go store. They're posing with large candles shaped like penises; at least one of them appears to be simulating fellatio.

These images are at the heart of a scandal that has rocked McKinney, an affluent community north of Dallas. By many accounts, the group of cheerleaders, known as the Fab Five, were an elite, out-of-control social clique that flagrantly flouted school rules but faced few sanctions.

They seemed like stereotypical "mean girls." Instead of inflicting physical harm, such girls wage war with what psychologists call "relational aggression." Their weapons: cutting language, exclusion and manipulation.

But there's an added wrinkle to the tale of the Fab Five. Their alleged ringleader was the daughter of McKinney North's principal, Linda Theret. After charges that Theret gave the girls preferential treatment, the school district launched a $40,000 investigation in the fall. The resulting 70-page report helped prompt Theret's resignation on Dec. 21 (an assistant principal remains on paid leave as he fights to retain his job). The report takes plenty of others to task as well, from parents to police. "Sadly, in this saga, I was struck by the reticence of many adults to accept the role of 'being the grown-up'," wrote the report's author.

After published an article about the Fab Five last week, hundreds of readers posted responses, many criticizing school officials and the kids' parents for being too lax. Cable news programs leapt on the story. "It's been a wild couple of days," said a McKinney schools spokesman last Friday. He stressed that the district will soon rewrite the cheerleading code of conduct. But, he added, "far more important ... is what parents are doing at home."

The cheerleaders had run amok long before the condom-store episode. When one teacher told a squad member to quit chatting on her cell phone in class, the girl replied, "Shut up, I'm talking to my mom." On another occasion, she offered this response to the teacher's reprimand: "Pull your panties out of a wad." "Gang members were nothing compared to these girls," the teacher told the report's author. The squad went through five coaches in the last three years.

The problems culminated in the fall under the most recent cheerleading coach, Michaela Ward. Among the pranks the girls allegedly pulled: giving her what the report described as a "chocolate tampon" and sending racy text messages from the coach's cell phone to her husband and to another coach. As a result of the MySpace photos, the girls received suspensions of up to 30 days. After that, Ward warned the cheerleaders that she would kick them off if there were any more incidents. "Good luck with that," one is said to have replied. In October, Ward quit and went to the media, setting off the uproar that prompted the investigation.

By now, all of the Fab Five have either quit or been kicked off the cheerleading squad. Reached by NEWSWEEK last week, two of the girls defended themselves. Though one conceded that she had treated teachers disrespectfully in the past and that such misbehavior is "serious," she asked, "Why didn't they take it up with us as freshmen? Why all of a sudden we're seniors and we're these horrible girls?" She challenged their depiction as "Girls Gone Wild." "We're goofy girls," she said. "We're fun and we're silly." In any case, "the Fab Five is broken up pretty much," she said. "We're growing up." Unfortunately, not soon enough.
I think that it was King Edward VIII the Duke of Windsor who said, while on a visit to the United States way back in the '50s, that "America has the most obedient parents on Earth."


Related: Backstory by Newsweek
here, while the cheerleaders defend themselves there.
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