Court lets ‘bikini’ girls join grad rites

CEBU CITY —Two senior students of a Catholic school in Cebu can now heave a sigh of relief.

The Regional Trial Court ordered St. Theresa’s College on Thursday to allow two 16-year-old seniors to attend their graduation ceremonies on March 30, after the school barred them doing so for posting pictures of themselves in bikinis in their Facebook accounts.

Judge Wilfredo Navarro of the RTC’s Branch 19 also ordered school officials to “treat the minors with kindness and civility befitting true graduates of a respectable institution sans any discrimination for the entire duration of the commencement exercises.”

Navarro granted a temporary restraining order sought by the parents of the two graduating students who filed a petition for injunction against STC officials and teachers after their daughters were barred from attending the graduation ceremonies for posting “obscene photos” in their accounts on Facebook, a social networking site.

The pictures showed the two girls wearing bikinis in a recent beach outing. One of them was reportedly shown holding a bottle of liquor and a cigarette.

Sued were Sr. Celeste Ma. Purisima Pe, school principal; Mussolini Yap, assistant principal; Marnie Racaza, student affairs moderator; Kristine Rose Ligot, discipline-in-charge; and Edita Josephine Yu, homeroom adviser.

The school officials claimed that the students violated the school handbook, which specifies their conduct on and off the campus.

The penalty includes exclusion from commencement exercises even if they are qualified to graduate from high school.

But the minors, represented by their parents, said their Facebook accounts were private and limited only to their friends and relatives.

They claimed that they were not accorded due process as they were not given an opportunity to answer the allegations against them.

Their lawyers pointed out that the minors were shocked when they were called to a meeting on March 1 and were scolded by the school principal, who supposedly called them names.

The court noted that during the March 27 hearing, the respondents did not deny the allegations of the two high schools students that they were called “sluts,” “addicts,” “drunkards,” and “cheap.”

It was during the same meeting that the students were informed they would not be allowed to join the graduation ceremonies.
In granting the TRO, Judge Navarro said the school also violated its own handbook when it didn’t accord due process to the students.

The manual requires that students be first informed of the infractions and be asked to present their side before a decision is made.

The court also chastised the principal for the manner she berated the students and called them names because it traumatized the students.

Navarro pointed out that the students, as minors, were entitled to protection, not just from physical abuse but also from verbal abuse.

“And to deprive them further of their right to participate in the commencement exercises or graduation rites certainly would not help any for their recovery from such a psychologically and emotionally devastating experience,” said the ruling.

“It would drag them further into the abyss of emptiness and absence or lack of meaning to their temporal existence for the remainder of their lives. And to do this to them would indeed be most un-Christian if not entirely inhuman,” the judge said.

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