A vulgar and sometimes obscene "Senior List" that unkindly characterizes the body parts, sexual habits and hygiene of selected girls at Ladue Horton Watkins High School caught administrators by surprise when it was passed around during the lunch period on May 11.
It was at least the 10th year that the list had been circulated by students at the high school, according to district administrators, but anti-bullying programs and other efforts had not effectively curbed the practice.
"The (Ladue High School) principal also stated that in the past the list had been passed around at graduation rehearsal. Therefore, having students pass it out at lunch was entirely unexpected," wrote Ladue School Board President Jayne Langsam in a letter to a Ladue High parent.
Langsam was responding to an email from parent Ruth Ahlemeier, who had written several letters about the "Senior List" to administrators in the district after she became aware of the practice in the spring.
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The June 28 letter was part of a series of correspondence between Ahlemeier and district officials over how officials were investigating the distribution of the list and what steps would be taken to prevent it from happening in the future.
In an interview with Patch, Ahlemeier, chief executive of OEM Logistics in Olivette, said teachers and the principal at Ladue High had told her the "Senior List" had been circulated annually at the school for years — some saying as long as 20 years.
Susan Dielmann, the district's communications director, said the current principal at Ladue High remembered the practice from the 2002-03 school year, when she was an assistant principal there.
"We clearly don't support the practice," Dielmann said. "We're with the parents in the abhorrence of this practice. It's not that we don't sympathize with the girls or the parents. It's clearly wrong."
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She said the district employs numerous programs designed to teach students to make good choices in their lives, both in and out of school.
"That's really what we can do, guide children to make the best choices they can," Dielmann told Patch. "Just like kids will make bad decisions such as driving drunk or using marijuana, this would be one of them. I don't mean to make light of it, but there is only so much that the school can do it children are determined to make bad decisions."
She said students have been disciplined for the practice in the past, when they can be identified. Typically, the Senior List shows up in bathrooms and on library tables, making it difficult to track down the culprits.
The letters from district officials — including Langsam, superintendent Marsha Chappelow and assistant superintendent Joan Oakley — make a number of references to past efforts to stop the "ugly tradition" and indicate that the May 11 incident wasn't the first.
"The school district was aware of the Senior List practice and had taken efforts to prevent it," Langsam wrote to Ahlemeier on June 28. "It is extremely difficult to prevent student behavior in the entirety if the students are willing to risk the consequences attendant to the behavior."
Dielmann said the district employs a number of anti-bullying programs aimed at students from as young as kindergarten to as old as senior high school. The district has 13 staff members training for a new program as well — a program settled on before the current issues over the Senior List erupted.
Patch will follow up with Pablo Flinn, director of educational services for student support and assessment at the Ladue School District, to learn more about the anti-bullying programs underway in district schools.