Students exercise free speech about dirty dancing

Placer free-speech seminar gets heated over grinding
By: Melody Stone, Journal staff
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Placer High School students want the freedom to dance as they choose. They used a seminar on free speech and Socratic communication Friday to voice displeasure with the school’s new dance contract. Operation Protect and Defend, a group of lawyers, judges and teachers from Sacramento, came onto campus to lead a discussion about free speech and students rights Friday afternoon. Arts classes, civics classes and the staff of the school’s newspaper gathered for a dialogue about free speech, mediated by two lawyers, Alf Brandt and Kim Lewellen. The students read different court cases about students’ rights and were prompted to discuss the cases in a forum. Placer High School art teacher Toby Covich said he was really excited about the program and hopes it becomes established in more schools in Placer County. “What’s interesting is the Socratic process,” Covich said. “It isn’t a debate, it’s an opportunity to throw out ideas and discuss them.” The lawyers led discussions about cases when students’ rights were infringed. The students engaged Brandt and Lewellen and expressed critical thoughts. The discussion picked up when student Victor Monjaras read the school’s new contract outlawing dirty dancing at school dances. “The manner of dancing will be appropriate for a school function,” Monjaras read. “Sexually explicit (dances) such as freak dancing or grinding are prohibited. This includes dance styles that involve intimate touching of the breasts, buttocks, or genital area, or that simulate sexual activity.” Brandt asked the students if actions had the same legal protections as speech and brought up the fact dances are a non-mandatory-school function. The students said they had a right to express themselves. Brandt questioned the meaning of that expression. “Is it an important message being expressed?” Brandt said. A student said their feelings were important to express through dancing. They gave the example of love from boyfriend to girlfriend. Some students argued the lyrics give dirty-dancing instructions and they don’t know any other way to dance. “We’re not going out there and having sex,” a girl in the front row said. “We’re just dancing.” Brandt said schools couldn’t allow material unacceptable to minors. Students said what’s lewd or acceptable is subjective. Lewellen asked the students if there was any other way to be expressive. “Is the only way to represent yourself recreating sex on the dance floor?” Lewellen asked. Around this time Placer’s Principal Peter Efstathiu walked into the auditorium and was met with applause and boos. Brandt told Efstathiu that the lawyers supported the contract. Senior Katie O’Brien sat quietly listening to the discussion. Afterward, she said she didn’t like the contract at all. “I think dance is a way to express ourselves,” O’Brien said. “Some of the more explicit stuff high-schoolers are doing — I can see trying to stop, but they state in the contract we have to dance face-to-face.” O’Brien said when dancing with a boy she likes to dance her back to his front. “I don’t think most kids will follow the rules,” she said. “I’m not sure I will.” Efstathiu said the style of obscene dancing got radically worse within the past five years. “It happened overnight. Extreme dance cases look like a sexual act,” Efstathiu said after the forum. “The contract is in response to kids’ and parents’ concerns with dancing not being appropriate.” Operation Protect and Defend was started in 2002 when U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell gave a speech saying a significant number of American high school and college students don’t have a basic understanding of the judicial system and law. He helped launch the program in Sacramento County. This is the first year the program took place in Placer County and the lawyers involved would like to see it established with local attorneys, teachers and judges. Brandt said he felt the dialogue was great and he was pleased with the critical thinking exercise. “They were very engaged,” Brandt said. “I think the key piece is the dialogue. They have to think and understand.”