Four students suspended for GHS rap

GUILDERLAND — Four Guilderland High School students, all males, have been suspended for posting to YouTube a rap song that, according to the high school principal, made derogatory references to named female students.

Principal Thomas Lutsic, who said he “unfortunately” listened to the five-minute recording , was asked to describe it.  “There was not a clear message. There were raunchy sexual comments,” he told The Enterprise yesterday. “It was very explicit about these young ladies.”

The district is not releasing the names of the students who made the rap.

Separate from school discipline, the Guilderland Police are conferring with the Albany County District Attorney’s Office about the possibility of arrests.

In 2010, Albany County adopted a law, introduced by Brian Scavo, making cyberbullying a crime.  A Cohoes youth was arrested under that county law for a Facebook page targeting other youth; that case will now be considered by the state’s top court in a three-tiered system, the Court of Appeals.

The youth pleaded guilty in Cohoes City Court to Albany County Local Law #11 of 2010, making it a misdemeanor to engage in cyberbulling in the county, according to Court of Appeals spokesman Gary Spencer. The case, which will be heard some time next year, he said, is a constitutional challenge to the law and to the way it was applied in this case; the challenge alleges that the county law is a violation of First Amendment rights.

Guilderland had created a policy on cyberbullying well before the state enacted the Dignity for All Students Act in 2012, requiring  districts to come up with policies that dealt with cyberbullying both on and off school grounds.

The Guilderland policy specifies that cyberbullying and threats can occur on or off school property, both during and outside school hours. “Even if a student receives a threatening message at home, such message can directly impact the psychological and emotional well being of that individual,” it says.

The policy defines cyberbullying and cyberthreats; encourages victims to go to adults, like parents or teachers; and creates a process through which the victims can get help.

Roger Ginder, who heads the Community Services Unit for the Guilderland Police, described the rap recording as “pretty obscene and vulgar.” He also said, “It’s disheartening to the parents of the victims.”

Ginder said the recording featured just a single still photo of the Guilderland High School sign.

A parent of one of the students named in the audio clip called the Guilderland Police Department about it on Tuesday morning, Ginder said, and the investigation is being handled by the school resource officer, Nick Ingle.

Ingle did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.

Ginder also said it was his understanding that, while the school requested of YouTube that the clip be removed, it was one of the posters who ultimately removed it.

Ginder said that the Guilderland Police have been conferring with the Albany County District Attorney’s Office to see if arrests can be made or if “it falls under freedom of speech.”

Cecilia Walsh, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said, “This is ongoing so our office is unable to comment.”

Ginder also said, “People have to realize things placed on the Internet are there forever…Often kids think because they’re anonymous, they can’t be traced.”

He went on about online postings, “Things they say or do can be hurtful. It’s not like years ago with a rumor that disappears after a week. It stays out there.”

Asked how the four accused students were found, Lutsic said only, “It was brought to our attention.”

He went on, “The vast majority are appalled by this happening and would do the right thing.”

Asked for the boys’ reaction, Lutsic said, “All did say it was a mistake.”

A superintendent’s hearing will determine any further disciplinary actions from the school.

Lutsic noted the school year starts with assemblies that, among other things, cover Dignity for All Students Act regulations and cyberbullying.

Lutsic sent a letter to parents dated Nov. 12 that said, “Earlier today, school officials were notified that an explicit audio clip had been posted to the website YouTube containing the names of several Guilderland High School students. The clip contained obscene and harassing language, and as a result, the district has contacted YouTube to request that the audio clip be removed from the website immediately.

“We take very seriously our responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for our students….” (See related story on school safety at Guilderland.)

Counseling has been offered to the victims, said Lutsic, and he and the school superintendent, Marie Wiles, held a press conference about the matter Wednesday afternoon because they had received so many calls from the media.

Editor’s note: Melissa Hale-Spencer is married to the Court of Appeals spokesman.

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