The principal of a public high school in Louisiana who cited religion as justification for punishing a student after a video of her dancing went viral has apologized and requested a leave of absence for the rest of the school year.
Walker High School Principal Jason St. Pierre, sparked an outcry after Kaylee Timonet, 17, stripped her of her position as president of the school’s student government association and rescinded her scholarship approval. The punishment was in response to a video of him dancing behind another student at an off-campus party after Homecoming.
Ms Timonet said in a video interview on the website Unfiltered with Kiran that she danced behind her friend, “blowing her up”.
She said that the director, Mr. St. Pierre, and the assistant principal called her into her office on Tuesday and told her that she had been stripped of her student government seat. She said she “started crying hysterically.”
In the same video interview, Ms. Timonet said she was told by school administrators that she should be ashamed of herself and worried about her afterlife because she “didn’t follow God’s ideals, which made me cry even more.”
Public outrage ensued, with online critics drawing comparisons to “Footloose,” a fictional film about a conservative small town where dancing is illegal. Others posted under the hashtag “let the girl dance.”
In his apology, Mr. St. Pierre said this week that student government members are held to a high standard of conduct. “While I adhere to that premise, I believe the standard deserves input from not only myself and top administrators, but those student leaders as well,” Mr. St. added. Pierre in a statement. “I hope to create a path forward where we can work together to create clear expectations for everyone.”
Local media reported that since the apology was posted on the school’s website and app, Mr. St. Pierre requested a leave of absence until the end of the school year. Bruce Chaffin, assistant superintendent of schools for the school district, declined to comment Thursday. Multiple members of the Livingston Parish School District, of which Walker High School is a part, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mr. St. Pierre said he would reinstate Ms. Timonet as student government president and return his support required to apply for the Student Government Association scholarship for Ms. Timonet.
Ms. Timonet and her mother said in their recorded videos that the scholarship application deadline had passed. Ms. Timonet’s mother, Rachel, said in a self-recorded video that she was at the party where he was dancing and “there was nothing inappropriate for me.”
“There are two things I’ve always taught my children not to talk about: one is politics and the other is religion,” she said in a video that was also recorded. posted on Unfiltered with Kiran. Ms. Timonet and her mother were not immediately available for comment.
In his apology, Mr. St. Pierre said he had the “best intentions” in invoking religion. “I understand that it is not my responsibility to determine what the religious beliefs of students or others may be,” he said.
Jill Heinrich, a professor of education at Cornell College in Iowa, said public school teachers and principals function as an arm of the state. With that in mind, religion generally has no place in public school, she said, unless it’s taught in a secular way.
“You can talk about religious events in history class,” Ms. Heinrich said, adding that “there can be absolutely no representation”.