There wasn’t alleged to be a celebration on the million-dollar Silver Lake home March 27.
A Walsh Jesuit Excessive Faculty senior invited simply a few mates over that Saturday night time to look at March Insanity. However as phrase unfold on social media, college students from about seven different space excessive colleges confirmed up, somebody accustomed to what occurred stated.
One, an 18-year-old with ties to Walsh Jesuit, handed out, apparently drunk.
What occurred subsequent stays considerably murky. However in some unspecified time in the future, his pants got here off and one other partygoer put the nozzle ofa bottle of hand sanitizer between the 18-year-old’s bare buttocks. Others filmed what was occurring on their telephones and posted it to social media. After seeing video of the incident, the 18-year-old reported it to police the following day as a sexual assault.
Cuyahoga Falls prosecutors final week have been nonetheless weighing potential misdemeanor felony fees within the case after Summit County prosecutors declined to pursue felonies. The county prosecutors stated a evaluate of all the data supplied discovered the incident didn’t meet standards to be handled as a sexual assault underneath Ohio legislation.
As highschool occasion season ramps up — with promenade and commencement on the horizon simply as COVID-19 restrictions start to ease — the Silver Lake incident raises questions on how colleges might maintain college students accountable for issues that occur off campus, significantly when so many teenagers share each a part of their lives on social media.
Walsh Jesuit President Karl Ertle stated Friday that six college students linked to the incident, all males, have left the college during the last eight to 10 days. He declined to say whether or not they have been expelled or withdrew from the college.
However not one of the six will graduate from Walsh Jesuit, he stated, nor have been they allowed to attend Friday’s promenade or upcoming year-end college occasions.
“Each few years there’s a nightmare occasion involving an area college and children’ lives are modified ceaselessly,” Ertle stated final week.
Faculty wrestles with onslaught of rumors, hypothesis
Walsh Jesuit started wanting into what occurred on the occasion when Silver Lake police notified them of their investigation throughout Easter trip.
As gossip in regards to the occasion escalated, Ertle despatched an e mail to the Walsh Jesuit neighborhood April 16. “We wish to inform you of an ongoing police investigation and quell rumors which were circulating,” Ertle wrote, urging individuals who knew what occurred to succeed in out to one in every of two college deans.
The e-mail didn’t point out a potential sexual assault — which is what the police incident report known as it — or who was allegedly concerned.
Some mother and father and college students stated they feared the college was making an attempt to cowl up the incident, and somebody launched an internet petition at change.orgaimed at holding Walsh Jesuit officials accountable. By Friday, the petition had more than 7,800 signatures.
‘Horrific’ video clips shared with school administrators
Ertle said school officials have been working through what happened as quickly as they could, but were hamstrung waiting to see videos of what happened at the party that night.
Silver Lake police obtained the videos early on, but turned them over as evidence to Summit County prosecutors. After determining that the case did not clear the legal threshold for felony charges, the prosecutors office shared the videos — four clips, each less than 30 seconds — with the school.
Ertle said the school moved swiftly after officials saw for themselves what had happened.
“It was horrific,” Ertle said Friday about what happened on the videos. He declined to elaborate or comment on potential criminality.
He said he knows that some parents want to see the video to make sure the case is being handled appropriately by both prosecutors and the school, but the school can’t share the video.
The Akron Beacon Journal, citing public records law, has also asked the Summit County prosecutor to share the videos, but the prosecutor’s office has so far declined even though it shared the videos with the school.
Ertle said the video clips offer only a glimpse into the Silver Lake party.
The party was attended by males and females, for example, but the videos only show males in the area surrounding the incident with the hand sanitizer bottle, he said.
That’s why the only students to leave the school in the wake of the party were males.
He said the school did know enough to determine the hand sanitizer incident wasn’t hazing.
“I think the alcohol was such an impactful factor,” Ertle said. “Kids who would normally make strong decisions, were not.”
Lessons from Steubenville
The Silver Lake incidents comes nine years after another Ohio case focused the nation’s attention on the dangers that sometimes lurk at drunken high school parties and how social media can be key evidence to prosecute crimes.
It happened when a West Virginia high school girl, incapacitated by alcohol, was repeatedly raped during a series of parties involving Steubenville High School students. Steubenville is about 110 miles southeast of Akron.
When Alexandria Goddard — then a Steubenville-area crime blogger, now a social media legal consultant near Columbus — began digging through students’ social media accounts, she found graphic photographs, videos and degrading tweets about what happened to the girl.
“Steubenville was an eye-opener about the power of social media and its reach,” Goddard said last week. “I don’t think a lot of parents paid attention to what their kids were doing online then, and they still aren’t.”
Kids, she said, “put things online and acted like they were in this bubble and no one had access to what they were putting out there,” Goddard said.
Investigators in that case eventually reviewed 400,000 pictures, videos and text messages taken from 15 mobile phones.
Ultimately, two teen football players were found delinquent in juvenile court of rape and other charges.
Several school officials were also charged with various crimes, including failure to report child abuse, obstructing justice and tampering with evidence.
Goddard said so many lessons emerged from the case that could help prevent similar incidents.
“Consent is the first thing,” she said. Students in Steubenville didn’t understand that “my body is my body unless I allow you to touch my body.”
Second, she said, is bystander intervention.
“At Steubenville, if only one child had contacted an adult, this would have stopped,” she said. “We need to tell kids it’s OK to be thought of as a jerk to stand up and tell someone this is wrong.”
Lastly, she said, parents need to monitor their children’s social media, including during high school.
“The internet has not been around that long. And even for young parents, it was not a part of their daily lives the way it is in their children’s,” Goddard said. “I just don’t think parents realize what’s happening on social media. It can be a dangerous place.”
Other hazards of social media misuse
For students, the danger of consequences from social media posts doesn’t only involve crime.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about a Pennsylvania case that could decide whether schools can punish students not only for what they do off campus, but for what they say — including what they say on social media.
On its face, the case may sound trivial, but the court’s decision about student freedom of speech could be one of the most important in a generation.
The case is about a 14-year-old Pennsylvania cheerleader who didn’t make the cut for the varsity team and went onto Snapchat, where she said, “F*** school, f**** softball, f**** cheer, f**** everything.” The girl also included a picture of her and a friend flipping the bird.
Snapchat messages, unlike most other social media, are meant to be temporary because they disappear on their own. But someone captured a screen grab of the cheerleader’s rant and shared it with the school. Officials punished the 14-year-old by booting her off the junior varsity squad.
Her parents sued, and now, several years later (the cheerleader has since graduated and started college), the case has made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
Dianne Curtis, who teaches school law as an adjunct professor at University of Akron and Cleveland State, said the implications of the court’s decision could affect everything from how schools can deal with online bullying to bomb threats.
The last major Supreme Court decision involving free speech happened before the internet existed. It was 1969 and a group of students wanted to wear black armbands to protest the war in Vietnam.
In Tinker v. DesMoines, the court said students’ freedoms don’t disappear “at the schoolhouse gate.” It also ruled that schools may regulate speech in cases where it “materially disrupts” the operation of the school.
Curtis said it’s a difficult balance. A few years ago, for example, there was a group of teachers being accused of sexually harassing students. Students made a rap song that named those teachers.
“They were disciplined and the suspensions were upheld,” she said, because “if it’s disrupting, if students can’t get focus, if teachers are talking about it, if it’s preventing classes from being held,” there can be consequences.
But balancing students’ rights with the schools’ need to operate is a “slippery slope” she said, and the law has not caught up with social media.
In the past, if you made it past the bully waiting outside your door, you were home free, she said.
“Now they can bully you 24/7,” she said. “I can promise you when I litigate a case, social media is the first place I look because behavior is broadcast around the world.”
School addresses questions, works toward prevention
On Thursday evening, a month after notifying parents of the police investigation into what happened at Silver Lake, Ertle invited parents to a forum in the chapel on the school’s Cuyahoga Falls campus.
“I know there have been many questions and concerns,” Ertle wrote in the invitation.
After the forum, Ertle said on Friday he thought many of those who attended wanted to know what happened to the Walsh Jesuit students involved.
“I think they all knew as of last week that the kids were [no longer] part of Walsh Jesuit,” Ertle said. “They wanted confirmation of that because we don’t publicize that.”
No one else at the school faces any discipline in the case unless the officials learn more information, he said.
Ertle said Walsh had already reached north to John Carroll University, another Jesuit school many Walsh Jesuit alums attend after graduation.
John Carroll has programs for incoming students to teach them about proper conduct, behavior, social media and consent, he said.
At the high school level, students might cover those topics with a single guest speaker or class period. But Ertle said Walsh Jesuit wants to bring the deeper college plan into high school, not only at Walsh Jesuit, but at other local high schools, hoping to prevent something like this from happening again.
Parents, he said, appeared to back this idea at the forum.
“They went from sadness and worry … to what can we do proactively to help,” he said.
Walsh Jesuit doesn’t routinely search its students’ social media accounts, he said. But when someone sends in a troublesome screenshot of student behavior, or if the school is contacted by police, school officials investigate.
“We’re not trying to trick them or to spy on them,” Ertle said about student social media. “The idea is we’re really concerned about their formation into adults.”
Part of the Jesuit philosophy, Ertle said, is that school doesn’t end when the bell rings.
“It’s not over. It’s 24/7, 365 days,” Ertle said. “I certainly hope there’s a ripple effect of goodness after this tragic incident.”
Akron Beacon Journal reporter Stephanie Warsmith contributed to this report. Reach reporter Amanda Garrett by email email@example.com or direct message her on Twitter @agarrettABJ.