CEBU CITY, Philippines – The Department of Education (DepEd) is looking into the controversy over the refusal of St. Theresa’s College to let five graduating students attend their high shcool commencement exercise.
The central office in Manila has asked the DepEd regional office to submit a report on the conflict, which stemmed from the school’s March 1 decision to penalize the students for posting “lewd” photos in their Facebook accounts and other alleged misconduct discovered in February.
“We were required to gather facts about this matter,” said Carmelita Dulangon, acting DepEd chief of Central Visayas.
“We would have wanted both parties to come together, listen to both sides and reach a compromises for a ‘win-win’ solution, but we cannot preempt the court,” she said.
The inquiry, she said, will cover the Student Handbook, whose provisions were the basis for the punishment, including a section that prohibits “Posing and uploading pictures on the Internet that entail ample body exposure”.
“If there are questionable sections that will be brought to our attention, then we can tell the school to revise it,” said Dulangon, but she stressed that DepEd respects the manual governing the rules and operation of the school, and that parents and students are given copies before for the school year begins.
Issues of privacy, the use of social networking sites and how far the disciplinary action of an educational institution goes in the Internet age are some of the challenges highlighted in the Cebu school dispute.
STC, a private Catholic school, is one of the few schools in Cebu that have specific rules about Internet use.
The girls were censured for posing in bikinis and engaging in what the school called “obscene”, “sexually provocative” and “immoral” conduct, even as parents of one of the 16-year-old girls said they saw nothing alarming in the photos taken during their daughter’s birthday celebration in a Mactan beach resort with her friends and family members.
STC officials, in a statement, said the incident, while taking place in a family gathering, still occurred in a “public place”. They said “being a Theresian is 24/7” and that a student “upholds the virtues and values of the school wherever she goes.”
While Internet use is widespread among students, schools wrestle with how to regulate risks of overexposure in social networking sites, especially by youths who share photos and personal details online. (See column of Ricky Poca)
Last week, five boys in Infant Jesus Academy in Manila, a sectarian school, were initially bared from attending their graduation after one of the boys posted photos of them kissing one another in his Facebook account. Parents complained to INQUIRER Radio, and the DepEd promptly intervened and prevailed upon the school to let the students graudate although the boy’s diplomas were withheld for the meantime.
Raul Pangalangan, former dean of the University fo the Philippines College of Law, in his INQUIRER column “Schools as Facebook patrol” last Thursday pointed out the thorny issue of school and parental authority and online use.
“… under the Family Code, the school exercises ‘special parental authority’ only during school activities. The mother says that the bikini shot was taken at a ‘family or private social activity [that] does not involve the school’s supervision and control’ and ‘was not connected with the school curriculum.’ The school cannot install itself as moral watchdog over a student’s entire life.
“Three, the school actually intruded into the student’s privacy. The photograph was apparently posted on the girl’s Facebook account whose privacy settings allowed access only to her friends. The school officials were not her Facebook friends, and were kibitzers into the child’s zone of privacy. Indeed, if indeed the girl’s privacy settings gave access only to her friends, the girl’s Facebook posts are technically hearsay vis-à-vis the school officials because they were not privy to her posts.”
STC officials denied allegations that they “hacked” the students’ Facebook account. In a Friday press conference, they said the photos were actually brought to the attention of teachers by other STC students who were “disturbed” by them.
A criminal complaint was filed on Friday by three of the girls and their parents against the STC principal and four teachers for grave oral defamation and violation of the Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009 for using the Facebook photos without their consent to accuse the students of “immoral” behavior.
The school manuals, which are crafted by the school in consultation with parents and faculty, are subject to approval of DepEd which has a 2010 Revised Manual of Regulations for Private Schools.
On Friday, the school shut out the five complaining students from the high school graduation rites.
This occurred despite a March 28 Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) issued by Regional Trial Court Judge Wilfredo Navarro directing the school to let two of the girls “fully participate” in the commencement exercise to avoid further traumatizing them.
The school’s lawyer Romeo Balili later said the court order was “deficient” because it was issued without a bond to answer for possible damage. He said STC has “all the right not to comply with the TRO.”
Cebu City Schools Division Supt. Dr. Rhea Mar Angtud expressed surprise over the development.
“Wala gyud diay nipatuo ang STC? We were expecting everything to be fine after the TRO was issued,” Angtud said in a phone interview.
She said the DepEd order to conduct an inquiry was given before the graduation but with Friday’s development, she will have to coordinate with the court.
She said they will review STC’s manuals to see what rules and regulations were violated to avoid the same issues from reviving.
“The investigation and review will be implemented in accordance with the results of the court’s proceedings and will be done to prevent cases like this from happening in the future,” she said.
As for Friday’s refusal to obey the court order to let the seniors march in the graudation rites to get their diplomas, Angtud said DepEd said they will leave it to the court to decide. /Reporter Candeze Mongaya, UP Mass Com Intern Sean Timothy Salvador
Originally posted at 07:41 am | Sunday, April 1, 2012