It seems that Ms. Wilson became overly obsessed that female students might attend a school dance wearing thongs... Of Thugs and Thongs
Zero Tolerance Where Art Thou?

It’s happened again. A high school administrator has demonstrated insufficient intelligence and restraint to be put in charge of a hamster habitat, never mind a school.

This time, the venue is Rancho Bernardo High School, in suburban San Diego. The administrator is Rita Wilson, the school’s vice principal.

It seems that Ms. Wilson became overly obsessed that female students might attend a school dance wearing thongs and/or not wearing bras under their outer clothing. Consequently, Ms. Wilson set up a checkpoint outside the dance where she and school counselor Natalie Johnson actually lifted students’ skirts–in full view of male students and faculty–in Wilson’s search for "inappropriate" underwear. Female students suspected of not wearing bras were forced to partially disrobe or had their tops groped. Some male students were also forced, again publicly, to demonstrate that they were wearing underwear. Suspects not apprehended at the checkpoint were subjected to roving patrols throughout the dance.

Without belaboring detail, of which there is considerable, the incident is about as disturbing as they come. It is rendered more so by the fact that a credible eyewitness was San Diego police officer Greg Bisesto, whose reaction was, "Oh my God, what is she doing? This is totally out of line."

Officer Bisesto, arguably practicing too much restraint by not arresting Wilson and Johnson on the spot, went to Assistant Principal Michael Mosgrove and asked him to deal with the issue. Bisesto doesn’t know if Mosgrove did anything, but the forced exposure continued.

Michael Barber, a senior at the school and a member of the student government, asked a teacher to intervene. The teacher refused. If other members of the school faculty or administration present at the dance did anything other than "enjoy the peep show," in the words of one parent, such action is yet to be reported.

The dance took place on Friday, April 26. Until Wednesday, May 1, the reaction of school officials was typical mumble and run. Then, facing an avalanche of parental criticism and an invasion of national media, and probably only because of same, Ms. Wilson was placed on administrative leave. No action has been taken against Natalie Johnson because she was only following orders, don’t you know. No action has been taken against faculty or other administrators who, in this case, can’t exactly claim they were looking the other way, but hey, Ms. Wilson was in charge of the dance.

The zero tolerance crowd, so quick to act against even innocent and inadvertent student infraction of rules, often with life-shattering results, is yet to be heard from. Not their job to deal with one of their own.

Ms. Wilson should and, in fact, must be afforded the due process that she denied the students. No invasion of her privacy, no sexual harassment, no unwarranted public strip search without probable cause. An attorney undoubtedly will be provided to her, most likely at taxpayer expense. "We are taking this seriously and want to ensure that any actions to be taken are based upon the facts of the situation," droned a written statement attributed to Don Phillips, the Poway Unified School District Superintendent.

We think the observation of a female student’s parent is more to point: "Our kids are in public school and part of what they are learning is civil liberties. Rather than being taught what they are, they had them violated," said Alane Barnes Garvik.

Ms. Wilson, who has thus far wisely refused comment, is reported by school principal Paul Gentle to be very sorry for what she did. Aren’t they all, after they’re caught?

May 2, 2002
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