St. Theresa’s defends action

Posted on March 30, 2012

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While St. Theresa’s College has “suffered a beating” in the public eye, school officials said they acted with “respect, kindness and civility” to the parents and five students who were not allowed to join yesterday’s high school commencement exercises.

School officials broke their silence last night in a press conference where they explained why and how they reached the decision to bar the students and their families.

To deprive the girls of the chance to march in the graduation rites would be “un-Christian” and “inhuman” said Regional Trial Court Judge Wilfredo Navarro in his earlier Temporary Restraining Order directed at the school.

Sr. Celeste Ma. Purisima Pe, high school principal and ICM directress, said it was unfair to say the school ignored its own procedures when it sanctioned the five girls.

The students, in a March 1 order, were barred from joining school activities which include the senior’s bash, graduation practices and the commencement rites.
The uproar over so-called “lewd” photos of the students in their Facebook account started in February, when other students called the faculty’s attention.

“It was brought to the school’s attention by students who were disturbed (by the photos),” said Lilu Aliño, Institutional Planning Officer.

The penalty handed down on March 1 goes beyond the offense of appearing in a bikini, said Allan Trani, Human Resource Officer.

“The issue is not just the bikini. It’s wearing skimpy clothing, acting suggestively, provocatively and sexually. It’s not about teenagers wearing bikinis in the poolside. Dili baya na bastos ang pag wear og bikini. To wear a bikini is not a mortal sin,” Trani said.

(Officials said they wouldn’t show the photos in public to protect the minor students.)

The disciplinary action was kept an internal school matter until the parents filed a lawsuit this week, bringing the case out in public.

Trani said STC teachers in February called the attention of the five seniors and made them write a personal narrative about their “violations”.

“They were even very apologetic about what they did,” Trani said about the handwritten accounts.
The five girls had sessions with the school’s guidance counselor and had a whole-day retreat with their religion teacher.

Parents were called in, were told of the violations and appealed to the school to lessen the penalty. Some suggested letting the girls make up for their mistakes by cleaning up the school grounds.

The principal said this was not enough.

“Cleaning the school… they would enjoy that. We like to give them something where they will feel that they have done something wrong,” Sr. Pe said last night.

Including the students in the commencement rites would mean “exonerating” them. Sr. Pe said this would be unfair to other students who had good conduct during their formation years in STC.

The nun denied that she and two other teachers called the students “sluts” and used other harsh words last March 1 in her office, an encounter which is the subject of a criminal complaint of grave oral defamation filed yesterday by families of three of the girls.

“I did not say that. They are putting words in my mouth. There were a lot of lies in the (allegations). I do not know where that came from,” Pe told Cebu Daily News.
Officials said they were happy that several STC alumna and other religious organizations offered prayers and support for their decision to punish students who post ‘lewd’ photos on the Internet.

“The school feels and cares very deeply for the students and we are as hurt and as saddened by this turn of events… The reason why we run a school is not for the sake of the teachers or the sisters. We exist for (the sake of the students) and yet we are made to appear as if we are the aggressor and cruel,” said Fr. Ernesto Javier, SJ , chairman of the STC Board of Trustees.

“There are times that the parents must say no for the sake of the child. We feel very deeply and I wish this did not happen.”

“A great deal has been said about them not being allowed to march as if the school’s refusal to let them march was an arbitrary action of the school. But you must remember that commencement is not just a social gathering. It means that the school publicly certifies that the students have fulfilled all the requirements of the school and have lived the values that the school stands for,” he said.

“So much more than just marching and going up stage is involved here. It is the school’s certification to the world that these students are our products. They have met all the requirements and exemplified in their lives the religious and moral values that the school stands for. If you view commencement in that light then, the school has no alternative than to refuse to certify these students,” he said. /Marian Z. Codilla, Reporter
 

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