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Friday, April 27, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gig Harbor school tape of kiss leads to complaint

Seattle Times staff reporter

The principal of Gig Harbor High School said Thursday that a school official should not have shown the parents of a student the video-surveillance footage of the girl kissing another girl in the cafeteria. And he vowed that such an incident wouldn't happen again.

But Principal Greg Schellenberg said an investigation has found that no rules or policies were broken.

"It wasn't a violation of policy and procedure ... but we all agree it was not a good use of surveillance," Schellenberg said. "It was an abnormal use of our equipment and it won't happen again. This is not a Big Brother institution."

Even so, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington said the group plans to look into the matter.

"I have a hard time believing this incident would've been handled the same way if it was a heterosexual couple," said spokesman Doug Honig.

Earlier this year, Schellenberg said, the parents of the sophomore girl asked the school's dean of students, Keith Nelson, to alert them if school officials noticed their daughter engaged in any "unusual behavior."

Then in early February, a video camera in the cafeteria recorded a kiss between the sophomore and a senior girl, Schellenberg said.

Nelson showed the video to the sophomore's parents, who then transferred her to a school outside the Peninsula School District, Schellenberg said.

An investigation ensued after the 17-year-old senior complained that her privacy had been invaded, the principal said. But there is nothing in district policy addressing these particular circumstances, he said. The video has since been automatically erased from the school's system.

Honig said the incident raises "several concerns about the use of video cameras to track students' lives."

"If the cameras are being used to deal with security and vandalism problems, their use should be limited to that," Honig said.

Lisa Kelly, a University of Washington law professor who heads a Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic, said that the teens don't have a very high expectation for privacy in a public place such as a cafeteria.

Even so, Kelly agreed that it was troubling that school officials would interpret a kiss between two girls "as unusual or aberrant behavior."

"If she'd been making out with a boy, would that be unusual behavior?" Kelly said.

Schellenberg granted that Nelson could have simply told the girl's parents what had happened without showing them the video. But he said that the school would have handled it the same way had she been kissing a boy.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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