Just let the kids dance!
That sentiment has been echoing recently in one Louisiana town, where the principle of the public high school punished a student and questioned her religious beliefs after a DJ posted a promotional video of students dancing at a party.
Walker High School principal Jason St. Pierre called 17-year-old student body president Kaylee Timonet into his office and grilled her about the video, in which she danced with classmates at an off-campus homecoming party. The student's mother, Rachel Timonet, told The Advocate that St. Pierre "questioned who her friends were and if they followed the Lord."
He also stripped Timonet of her student government position, rescinded his support for scholarship opportunities, and told her she would no longer be eligible for student of the year.
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Timonet's mother also said of the principal's actions:
“If you are going to be unfair to my child, they had other people dancing in that video also that are on the dance team that nothing happened to. He (principal) said she was punished because she is the ‘hood-ornament’ of the school.”
After backlash from high school students and other locals, as well as growing online criticism, St. Pierre issued a since-deleted apology and requested leave from the school district.
"Good afternoon WHS Family,"
"I believe it is necessary to respond to the public attention that has resulted from my actions regarding Kaylee Timonet’s participation in a dance party that was sponsored at an off-site location following WHS Homecoming."
"I have had time to consider my actions, have conversations with the Timonets, and meet with district staff."
"First, let me say that I have apologized to the Timonets and I am hopeful that my scheduled meeting with Kaylee’s mom will rectify this situation and allow Kaylee to enjoy the remainder of her senior year at Walker High School."
"I will be reinstating Kaylee’s position on the Student Government Association. The SGA was created to give students a voice in their school and their community, to promote leadership qualities, and to represent their school with pride, enthusiasm, and respect."
"Our student government members are held to a high standard of student behavior. While I stand by that premise, I do believe that standard deserves the input of not just myself and top administrators, but also those student leaders. I hope to create a path moving forward where we can work together to create clear expectations for all."
"I will be reinstating my scholarship endorsement for Kaylee. At Walker High, we strive to place our students first in every decision so they may be prepared for whatever career path they may aspire to take, and I believe my action will assist in doing that."
"Finally, during my conversation with Kaylee regarding the dance party, the subject of religious beliefs was broached by Kaylee and myself. While that conversation was meant with the best intentions, I do understand it is not my responsibility to determine what students’ or others’ religious beliefs may be, that should be the responsibility of the individual."
"As principal of Walker High School, I am faced daily with many difficult decisions for the interest of our students and employees that are never taken lightly. Please know that I always strive to place our students first in every decision. It is for that reason that I have taken this corrective action."
"As we move forward, I ask for your continued support of Walker High School, our amazing teachers, and our outstanding students."
"Jason St. Pierre, Principal of Walker High School"
Reactions from people learning about the incident were mostly in Timonet's favor.
Some people said her scholarship opportunities should be given back.
Some folks called for St. Pierre to be fired.
Fellow high school students shared their support.
Many people questioned St. Pierre's discussion of faith while serving as principal of a public high school.
And others objected to the principal referring to the 17-year-old girl as the "hood ornament" of the school.
Others argued the incident reflected the culture at large.
Finally, some made the inevitable reference to Footloose.
St. Pierre has requested leave for the remainder of the year, and the district is waiting for his paperwork.