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TMCNet:  Motives of fellow students who voted girl onto homecoming court in question

[September 25, 2012]

Motives of fellow students who voted girl onto homecoming court in question

PACIFIC, Mo., Sep 25, 2012 (St. Louis Post-Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune News Service via COMTEX) -- They wanted to feel excitement for their daughter, a 15-year-old who came home from school with the news she had been chosen for homecoming court. But deep down, Rickie and Tonya Tanner thought something wasn't right.

As a teen with attention deficit disorder and conditions that have her lagging socially and without friends, her victory didn't make sense to them.

The nomination now has administrators trying to sort through the intentions of sophomores who voted for homecoming court members at Pacific High School in the Meramec Valley School District in Missouri.

The Tanners believe most of the students who voted for their daughter did so with hurtful motives, and that the principal should send a message to those students, even if it means canceling homecoming activities for the class.

Meanwhile, students say many Pacific sophomores voted for the girl in a positive way, and that they have been unfairly labeled as bullies.

"I know some people who voted for her who are very good people, and they felt horrible when they found out it was a joke," said Katie McDonald, a junior who spoke of the incident after school Tuesday at a local McDonald's. Her friend, sophomore Dana Mendenall, said a few students might have put the girl's name on the ballot with bad intentions. But a lot of others voted for her because they genuinely wanted her to win _ because she was different, and didn't fall into the typical categories of athletes or the popular crowd, Mendenall said.

At best, some high schools have used the tradition of homecoming and prom court royalty as a way to show support to students who are different.

Last year at Hazelwood West, a girl with Down syndrome was named homecoming queen, and this year, Francis Howell North High students elected a special education student as homecoming king.

But at their worst, these votes can be malicious and meant to ridicule an unpopular student. It was famously illustrated in the 1976 film "Carrie." Just this week, a Michigan high school made national news after an unpopular girl was voted to homecoming court as a prank. Since then, residents and thousands of supporters on a Facebook page have rallied around her. The Detroit News reported that for the homecoming festivities on Saturday, businesses and others have said they will buy her dinner and show up in droves to support her when her name is called at halftime during the football game.

At a Connecticut high school, a principal last spring decided to do away with prom court elections and instead select names at random to eliminate popularity contests and bullying.

At Pacific High School, there have been rumors that the plan involved publicly humiliating the Tanners' daughter by throwing eggs at her at the Saturday's homecoming parade.

For her safety, the Tanners kept her home from school on Monday and Tuesday and said they were undecided about the rest of the week. They planned to keep her home from the parade, too. The Post-Dispatch is not naming the girl because of concerns for her safety.

Superintendent Randy George said Tuesday afternoon that administrators had made progress with their investigation by interviewing students. He said administrators have not issued any formal discipline.

Some students said they heard that three were going to be suspended.

After the nominations were announced last week, the Tanners spoke with other parents at the high school, who confirmed their suspicions. Anonymous e-mails also said the vote was a joke.

Rickie Lee Tanner, a country music singer who has nearly 5,000 friends on Facebook, went to his page on Sunday to vent his frustrations about the incident. He included the principal's e-mail address and phone number, asking people to call if they think homecoming should be taken away.

The response was overwhelming: The Tanners received about 1,000 e-mails. Dozens of people shared the information on Facebook, and hundreds commented on his page.

"I just thought if something drastic was taken away, they might learn from this," Tonya Tanner said of the students. "I'm not out for vengeance, I want them to know what they did was wrong and learn from it. I can't regret doing the right thing for my child." George, the superintendent, said the election of the Tanners' daughter to the homecoming court was not a landslide vote. He said she won the nomination with about 35 percent of the 223 votes. The family has asserted that as many as 85 percent of students voted in her favor.

The district has been trying to improve communication with students about bullying this school year. At the high school, teachers have put purple dots on their doors signaling to students they can talk to them about problems.

Julie Hertzog, director of PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, said studies have shown that students with disabilities are more likely to be bullied.

Not only support from teachers, but support from peers is important, she said.

"Group pressures and social norms are so powerful at that age," Hertzog said. "But almost universally, kids don't like (bullying) but they don't know what to do about it. There needs to be some help of how students can help their peers." (EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE) And sometimes, just hearing from another student that they are not alone can help.

That happened Monday night at the Tanner house.

A girl who has been in class with their daughter since she was young stopped by with her mother, Tonya Tanner said.

"She said she was worried and she wanted her to know that she cared about her," Tanner said. "It was really sweet." ___ (c)2012 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at www.stltoday.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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