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Administrators investigate origins of ‘burn book’ at CCHS

Pop culture reference comes to life as bullying takes on form of ‘burn book’

A “burn book” containing pages of hateful, derogatory and sexual comments about current and past students of Creston Community High School was obtained by Cateya Phipps, who brought the book to the attention of school administrators.
A “burn book” containing pages of hateful, derogatory and sexual comments about current and past students of Creston Community High School was obtained by Cateya Phipps, who brought the book to the attention of school administrators.

One parent is attempting to turn up the heat on Creston Community High School administrators to take action after she obtained a “Burn Book” she believes was circulated among some students in its student body. However, she also hopes the incident will become a teachable moment for the community at large.

This week, a so called ‘burn book’ surfaced at CCHS and was obtained by Cateya Phipps, who is a parent of a student at the school.

“It’s awful ... sick,” she said.

The phrase “burn book” is derived from the movie “Mean Girls,” which features a book containing a series of hateful, derogatory and sexual comments about classmates. The burn book obtained by Phipps features the names and photo-copied year book photos of current and former students with burnt edges pasted onto college-ruled notebook paper, which are held together by a three-ring binder. On each page anonymous accusations and rumors about that person were written in colored marker.

Phipps said she remembered what it was like being bullied in school and contacted the parents of each student, because she feels that some parents might not be aware of what their child might be dealing with on a day-to-day basis and the awareness could help them identify signs of depression, anxiety or help explain other issues.

“I thought other parents would want to know and need to know about this, because of what you see on the news of kids getting bullied or committing suicide because they don’t talk and their parents aren’t aware of what’s going on,” said Phipps. “I just think there needs to be more awareness. I think this could be the thing that says, ‘Hey, it is real. It is here. It could be everywhere.’”

Phipps said some of the individuals featured in the book do not attend CCHS anymore. She said a father explained to her that he removed his children from the school more than a year ago due to bullying, which makes the two parents believe the book – which features at least 27 individuals – was created over a long period of time.

At this time, the district has not disclosed if it is known who created the burn book, and how or if it was circulated on campus.

District proceedings

Terry Freeman, a board member of Creston Community School District, said Phipps did the right thing by reporting it first to the school’s administrator, Principal Bill Messerole.

“As a board member and as a parent, I have complete and utter confidence in Bill Messerole. He will investigate it and take the appropriate actions,” Freeman said.

According to the 2018-19 CCHS Handbook, the district defines bullying and harassment as “any electronic, written, verbal or physical act or conduct toward a student which is based on any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student and which creates an objectively hostile school environment that meets one or more of the following conditions:

• Places the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or property
• Has a substantially detrimental effect on the student’s physical or mental health
• Has the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s academic performance
• Has the effect of substantially interfering with the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services

The policy further states “trait or characteristic of the student” includes but is not limited to age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or disability, ancestry, political party preference, political belief, socioeconomic status or familial status.

Violations of CCHS’s bullying and harassment policy are investigated by the school administrators and law enforcement may be contacted as necessary.

Messerole shared a statement with the CNA via phone, written by Steve McDermott, superintendent of CCDS.

“It has come to our attention that a ‘burn book’ has recently been seen here at the high school. To my limited knowledge, this book is a way for people to write anonymous, negative, hurtful and sometimes very personal comments about others. Clearly we do not allow such negativity or activities that go far beyond freedom of speech and extend to other categories. We want all of our local students and their families to be aware that this book was seen at the high school and will not be tolerated in our school. We also want to encourage everyone to take care of each other and to respect others. We will continue to monitor the situation,” he said.

A ‘learning’ moment

Phipps said, while she is disappointed and hurt by the contents of the burn book, she said the negative actions can become a learning moment for administrators, students and the community as well.

“I think they need to be a little bit more educated in different types of bullying, because when I told them about this they had no idea what it was and I think they need to educate parents and students a little bit more,” said Phipps.

Phipps said helping students understand their peers should always be a priority for the district.

She said one solutions is to require teachers to assign partners for student group work instead of allowing students to choose their own partner.”

“Maybe pair up kids that wouldn’t necessarily be hanging out together so that they can get to know each other better, because once you do know somebody, it’s harder for you to judge them,” said Phipps. “If you don’t really know that person and you’re looking at them from afar, it’s easy to judge them.

Phipps said she hopes district administrators take appropriate action and the incident creates a positive dialog for everyone to learn from – particularly between parents and their children.

“I know it’s a hard thing to talk to about with your kids. I had to explain to my younger kids what was going on. You would hope that you’d never have to have these talks with your children, but you have to be proactive about it.”

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