The administration of St Theresa’s College (STC), an exclusive girls school in Cebu had decided to bar 2 students from attending their graduation ceremony. This was because the nuns said that the girls had posted pictures of themselves in bikini on Facebook. The parents of one of the girls filed a case in court, asking it to overturn the STC nun’s ruling. The school declared that they were actually being lenient, since the girls would still graduate, and that they would simply not attend the graduation ceremonies.
RTC Judge Wilfredo Navarro decided on 29 March to issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to overturn the STC administration’s decision, saying that the girls should attend the graduation, but also that she be treated with respect, and accorded all the courtesy during the ceremonies. But on 30 March, STC guards refused to accept the TRO being served by the sheriff, and also blocked the girl and her parents from entering the campus. According to the STC administration, the TRO was ‘inadequate’. So, the STC pretends to know the law more than the judges; or, is it just a matter of their arrogance at disregarding any court order that they consider inconvenient.
The girl’s father said that they will continue with the case, even if the damage had already been done.
Violation of Privacy
The issue over inappropriate photos posted on Facebook is first of all a matter of the school’s violation of the girls’ privacy. Posting a picture on Facebook is akin to showing one’s photo album to friends. This is private. For someone who is not on one’s friends list to take issue with a posting on Facebook will be – to say the least – highly inappropriate. They should be the ones ashamed, in the first place, for having peeked without permission at the posting. It is the STC administration who should apologize for its voyeurism in peeking at a student’s Facebook page.
Violation of the Department of Education Rules
The disciplinary action of the STC administration violates the rules of the Department of Education, specifically Dep. Order 88 “2010 Revised Manual of Regulations for Private Schools in Basic Education”. In this Order, Section 131. Responsibility on Student Discipline: Limitation. “The administration of each private school shall be responsible for the maintenance of good discipline among students inside the school campus, as well as outside the school premises whenever they are engaged in authorized school activities.”
The family outing when the photo was taken was clearly not an “authorized school activity”, and thus the STC administration had no jurisdiction over it, nor over the subsequent posting in Facebook.
The STC administration should not cite the Student Manual as the basis for their action. If a provision in the manual is in conflict with the relevant Department of Education ruling, then it is invalid. It should be amended accordingly. To claim that their Manual provision should prevail over a Dept of Education rule is wrong; the Dept of Education specified in Order No. 88 that schools should adjust their rules to conform to it.
I have not seen the photo in question. But it seems that the photo was one of the girls wearing a bikini with a towel wrapped around her waist. If one was to consider this lewd, it would be more a reflection of one’s own dirty mind, rather than of the one in the photo. How could we expect nuns, who are sheltered from society, to be good judges of what constitutes appropriate states of dress. The RTC judge said that he does not consider the photo to be lewd. I would tend to rely more on his judgement than that of nuns.
The standard of ‘lewd’ is one on a slippery slope. If we let the nuns have their way, very soon all skirts above the knee will be lewd, as will all tops held up by spaghetti straps. (Note that the nuns appropriate upon themselves to judge what students should wear anywhere, not just at school.) We could end up worse than the Wahabi religious police in Saudi Arabia.
The children have been wronged; the graduation is over. The only appropriate penalty for the STC administration would be for them to issue a public apology, and perhaps reparations for the unnecessary emotional damage they had caused. But beyond this, there should be a thorough revision of all Student Manuals to ensure that they do not extend to behaviour outside school premises and activities.
The STC administration should also be sanctioned by the RTC for contempt of court. We can’t have school administrators who simply disregard the law whenever it does not please them.