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Pictures put chill into DL Snoball

DETROIT LAKES -- A "copycat" incident backed by high expectations and standards brought multiple Detroit Lakes High School students what they consider an unfair punishment.

About two weeks ago, the chief of police, county sheriff, city attorney and school officials received pictures of students from someone "concerned about the behavior of students."

Principal Steve Morben said the students shouldn't have been in the situation they were in, but declined to talk about the situation.

Those being punished had no problem explaining the situation though.

"There were pictures of me and I was at a party where there was drinking, but I wasn't drinking in the pictures they have. I don't have anything in my hand, and I'm just sitting there with nothing. It was kind of ridiculous I think," Janaye Johnson said. Johnson, a senior at the high school, was kicked out of the Snoball court where she was a candidate for queen.

She said she doesn't know who sent in the pictures, but was told they were from a "concerned parent."

Morben said the e-mail sent to him and other officials was basically a "heads up and you need to do something about this.

"We have higher expectations for students to have proper behavior in and out of school."

Especially those in leadership roles.

Another student affected by the pictures was Alice Branden. The senior said she was in the background of some of the pictures and as a result got her captainship of basketball and softball taken away from her.

The pictures were posted on Facebook, but not on her site. She said she doesn't know whom they came from. She wasn't drinking either, so she couldn't be suspended.

It's a matter of guilt by association; even though the students weren't drinking, they shouldn't have been at the party.

The school "expects behavior in and out of school to be impeccable," Morben said.

Those who received the e-mail met to discuss how the situation should be handled. Not only are the students held responsible by school expectations, they are also held to Minnesota State High School League rules. Those rules weren't broken, so it was at the school's discretion to take action, Morben said.

Students are held to higher standards because they are "standing up and representing the school in the community and at school," he said. It's something he "takes very seriously to maintain the image of Detroit Lakes High School. Participation in activities is a privilege, not a right."

Therefore, those affected had their position status removed.

Johnson listed six other students besides herself and Branden who had captainships taken away or were removed from the Snoball court.

Johnson and Branden point out that there is also a fairness issue involved.

"It's unfair. We thought we were OK since we weren't drinking," Branden said.

She also mentioned that not all the students in the pictures were punished because they weren't in "leadership" positions. Morben said those not held to the higher standards of being in leadership positions weren't reprimanded.

"None of us knew that if we were at the party... we figured if we didn't drink it would be fine. I guess we can't be in that situation at all," Johnson said.

Senior Jon Tolbert, who is also in the Snoball court but wasn't involved in the pictures, defended the school's action.

"I think it's tough to be the bad guy, and what's being done is justified," he said.

Morben said he addressed the school Friday morning and has sent out newsletters to parents in the past about the power of technology.

"The reality is Facebook is out there, but (students are) not applying privacy settings," Morben said. "They have to be aware of what they're doing and where they're at."

He added that the school didn't go after the pictures or this situation. Once presented, officials dealt with it as they saw fit. Instead, students created the situation by being where they shouldn't have been, then allowing others to take pictures of them and upload them on the Internet.

He said once the school received the first few photos and punished those students involved, more photos came in and those students in the pictures were punished in the same manner.

In fact, the school district's computers are blocked from viewing Facebook or Myspace.

"We didn't go looking for any of it," Morben said.