Cheerleaders Banned from Performing After Photos of Racy Banners Surface

Calling It A “Tradition,” Some Parents, Students Say Administration’s Punishment Was Too Harsh

San Marino High School’s cheer and song squads were not allowed to perform at last Thursday night’s Homecoming football game against South Pasadena after banners including sexually explicit phrases and images were seen late Wednesday night via social media by students at the neighboring school and reported to Principal Janet Anderson.

The posters were taped to the walls of the football locker room, which is located at the southwest corner of Titan Stadium. The facility is typically not accessible by females; however, it is a longstanding tradition that cheerleaders hang racy posters in the locker room the night before the Homecoming game.

San Marino High School Principal Mary Johnson was informed of the situation and summoned the cheerleaders to the school’s cafeteria early Thursday morning.  There, the cheerleaders were supposedly told that the content of the since-removed posters was unacceptable and asked who transmitted the images.  When they refused to take individual responsibility for the prank, they were informed they would not be allowed to perform at the Homecoming pep rally or football game.

Johnson emailed a message to the San Marino High School faculty after the meeting informing them of her decision. She then drafted a letter to parents of cheer and song participants explaining the administration’s position.

“Due to inappropriate posters being painted, hung in the boys’ locker room, then posted on social media, there has been significant response from the community in South Pasadena concerning the atmosphere for tonight’s game,” Johnson wrote. “As a school, we are embarrassed by the actions of our students and we are also – again – reminded of the dangers of social media in the hands of students, or anyone, who may not understand the unintended consequences of communicating what might have been passed in previous times as merely poor judgment on content.”

Later in the communiqué, Johnson stated that “Student safety is our primary concern.”

Johnson has long been a proponent of responsible use of social media. She appeared on a panel at a recent Partnership for Awareness presentation and urged parents to monitor their children’s use of electronic devices.

Cheerleaders and their parents felt the consequences were too harsh. Some parents went to San Marino High School and the district office and demanded face-to-face meetings with Mrs. Johnson and Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss, who was the featured speaker at Thursday’s meeting of the Rotary Club. Several phone calls, text messages and emails to The Tribune inferred that the punishment did not fit the crime. Parents insisted the students should be allowed to apologize for their actions in exchange for the reinstatement of their cheer privileges, one calling it “a teachable moment.”

“This would have diffused the entire situation,” said another.

The cheerleaders were allowed to participate in the Homecoming parade and attend the game in street clothes. A tribute to senior cheerleaders that is sometimes held at the final regular season home football game went on as planned, with members of the cheer squads in the grandstand. Members of San Marino High School’s ASB, or Associated Student Body, and the school’s advanced Drama class performed on the stadium track in an effort to inspire and entertain the capacity crowd at the Homecoming game.

The dialogue concerning the posters did not die down after the Titans upset the Tigers by a final score of 41-20 on Thursday night to keep alive their hopes for a Rio Hondo League championship. Fuel was added to the fire when the story was broadcast on the Los Angeles affiliate of FOX News on Friday and included blurred out images of two of the posters and featured interviews with SPHS students who called the stunt inappropriate. One cheer parent reported to The Tribune, “there have been death threats against the girls and parent bashing from South Pasadena and San Marino parents.”

The cheerleaders are now back to practice, preparing for tonight’s game at La Cañada. Many in the community—both those that support the decision of the school district and those that support the position of the cheerleaders—are ready to move on and heal.

One community member put it best: “What’s done is done. Like the song in the Disney movie Frozen, ‘Let it Go…Let it Go.’”