Coaches accused of body-shaming WI cheerleaders with awards for big breasts, buttocks

ACLU demands action in response to the alleged harassment

Coaches accused of body-shaming WI cheerleaders with awards for big breasts, buttocks
The ACLU is calling for “appropriate discipline” against staff and mandatory anti-harassment training for all employees in response to two separate incidents at Wisconsin high schools in the Kenosha Unified School District. (Source: WITI/Tribune/CNN)

KENOSHA, WI (WITI/CNN) - A Wisconsin school district is being asked to provide “corrective action” by the American Civil Liberties Union after complaints - from the parents of high school cheerleaders, in particular - about gender discrimination, body-shaming and victim blaming.

Officials with the ACLU say multiple incidents in the Kenosha Unified School District in Wisconsin indicate a pervasive culture of sexual harassment.

At one high school, coaches allegedly sexually harassed and body-shamed members of the cheerleading team, while students at another high school were asked to watch a movie and write about what one of the female characters could have done to prevent her sexual assault.

"The district needs to take action to make the schools a safe place for all students,” said Asma Kadri Keeler, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin.

Keeler is one of three ACLU employees who signed a letter issued to the school district on Tuesday over a Tremper High School cheer banquet last March.

“There were three body-shaming awards given out, and they were titled the ‘Big Boobie Strube’ award for the girl with the biggest breasts, the 'Big Booty Judy’ for the girl with the biggest buttocks and the 'String Bean’ award for the skinniest girl,” Keeler said.

The ACLU says the awards were handed out in both 2017 and 2018. Additionally, during the 2017 banquet, “a member of the cheerleading squad with brown hair received a blonde wig because she was deemed a ditzy girl,” according to the letter.

Parents told the ACLU that the cheer coaches had previously made sexual remarks about the girls and harassed them, to the point where "students have left practice in tears, have felt shame about their bodies and have quit the squad due to comments made by the coaches."

The school principal launched an investigation after several complaints were filed. In addition, an athletic coach sent a letter to the cheer coach about the awards, according to the documents.

“I honestly don’t feel that I need to explain myself ... Actually, we have ran it this way for years and have never had a problem,” the coach allegedly responded.

The ACLU claims both the principal’s investigation and one by the school district determined the cheerleading coaches did nothing wrong. The principal allegedly told a parent in one email that the awards were “meant to be funny” and “just joking around.”

"To say that there is no evidence of wrongdoing ignores the fact that those testimonials are evidence of wrongdoing,” Keeler said. “When you have girls as young as 14 on this team, to say that calling someone up in front of hundreds of people and calling attention to her breasts, her buttocks, her frame and saying that’s a joke is more than inappropriate; it’s likely against the law.”

The lead cheer coach was eventually directed to write apology letters to the girls who received the controversial awards, the ACLU says. She was also supposed to resign but instead continued to coach the squad throughout the 2018-2019 school year.

In a statement, the school district declined to discuss personnel matters but said “awards of this nature are not acceptable” and will not be given out in the future.

The ACLU is calling for “appropriate discipline” against staff and mandatory anti-harassment training for all employees in response to the cheer incident and a separate issue at Bradford High School in the same school district.

At Bradford, as part of the health curriculum, students watched a movie in which a college freshman was drugged and raped by a fraternity brother, according to the ACLU. They were then asked to fill out a worksheet with what the woman could have done to avoid her sexual assault.

In response to multiple complaints submitted by parents, the school district says that worksheet is no longer being used in class.

The ACLU says they’re exploring all legal options, depending on how the district responds to their letter and requests. They asked for a response by March 1.

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