This month, dozens of Dearborn families got an unwanted letter in their mailboxes: a so-called "skank list" with their daughters' names on it.
Now, four male Dearborn Public Schools students have been suspended over the multiple bullying incidents, district spokesperson David Mustonen confirmed Thursday. And several other lists are still being investigated.
Letters Begin at Fordson
Administrators say that the situation started with Fordson students in early February, when a anonymous, typed letter showed up in the mailboxes of multiple students’ homes. The letter mentioned girls by their full names, commenting on their personal lives, families and alleged sexual practices.
The letter spread on Facebook, Twitter, and via smart phone messaging, and sparked copycat letters in other schools.
Last week, a similar letter began circulating amongst Dearborn High students. At Fordson, a second list popped up targeting sophomores at the school. A third letter came out Crestwood High. Rumors of a second Dearborn High letter are also making their way through cyberspace.
Mustonen said that administrators at Dearborn High and Fordson investigated, and were able to find out which students were responsible for at least two of the lists.
The alleged writer of the first letter at Fordson–a male student at the school–was suspended first. And on Wednesday, two Dearborn High boys and one more Fordson student were suspended as well, according to Mustonen.
Mother: We Were Humiliated
While name-calling is not uncommon in high schools, it doesn't often reach parents' ears.
The mother of a Fordson sophomore whose name was on a list told Dearborn Patch that seeing the letter was painful.
“We as a family felt humiliated," said the mother. "When I looked at my daughter I saw pain in her eyes. To me, she is the victim and she was the only person I needed to protect.”
The mother said she had spoken to authorities, and to Fordson's 10th grade principal, Ben Gurk. She said she hopes other parents will speak out against the bullying, too.
"We need to all voice our opinion about the issue, because it might happen to any one of our children," she said. "We want (the district) to do more with educating our kids and holding them accountable for their actions. We do not want to hide anything or protect anyone to keep a good image of our schools."
Students React to Bullying in Their Schools
Students at both schools told Dearborn Patch that they were shocked to read the letters.
"It was really hurtful to see my name and what was written on that paper," said a Fordson senior whose name was in the first list. "It didn't hurt because of what they said, but because someone I know would say those things about me."
The girl said she felt that the students should get the "maximum punishment," including suspension, a public apology and exclusion from graduation day ceremonies.
A senior boy at Fordson took it a step further, saying that those responsible should be expelled.
“How could someone write that about these girls that he or she might not even know personally?” he said. “I think that the school should expel the person who wrote this because … the letter was intended to harass people.”
A sophomore girl at Dearborn High agreed.
“I thought it was so unnecessary for someone to put so much time and effort in writing these humiliating letters about these girls,” she said. “I think the school should talk to the police about it and get the authorities involved to do further investigation. The people that that wrote these letters have no right to get away with it.”
A junior girl at Crestwood said several of her friends and classmates were in the letter, and that they “really didn’t handle it well.”
“These people cried a lot and were really embarrassed by the letters,” she said.
District Reiterates Need for Bullying Policy
Mustonen said that the district sees the incident as a perfect example of why their comprehensive bullying policy, launched for the 2011-12 school year, is so crucial to ending harassment like this.
“This incident didn’t happen at school, and that’s why we started our bullying program, because bullying occurs … at any place, at any time,” he said. “We can’t control that, and that’s why we need to be partners with everybody in this program to make sure everyone’s involved to stay on top of these things when they get out of hand.”
Although the letters were written and delivered outside of school, Mustonen explained that their effect on the school environment—including further in-school bullying of the girls—put the situation within the district’s jurisdiction to handle.
The Fordson senior who spoke with Patch said that the letter "has caused many people to look at me differently." Some questioned her about the things written about her.
But there was a positive consequence, too.
"I now take bullying much more serious than I ever have before," she said. "Instead of grieving over what happened, we all decided to stand strong and be proud that we are better than these kids who did that."
And while students are not being further educated about the consequences of the letters, Mustonen said he thinks the suspensions will be enough to deter further copycat letters.
“We hope that by sending a strong message through the disciplinary action that these students are facing, other students who may be thinking about doing this kind of thing will not,” he said. “Our ongoing efforts ... go a long way in addressing this kind of behavior and stopping it before it starts becoming something that is a common practice.”
But for those who are bullied, the Fordson senior has a message to send: "Stay strong. Don't let these kids bring you down."