ACLU defends Brownsville High 'Harlem Shake' video

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A version of the Harlem Shake performed by students at Brownsville High School last month continues to reverberate.

Thirteen students at the Fayette County high school were given two-day suspensions in February for their involvement in filming a 29-second Harlem Shake video and posting it online, part of a popular song-and-dance craze that has swept through the Internet in recent weks.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the National Coalition Against Censorship emailed a letter to Philip J. Savini Jr., Brownsville Area School District superintendent and Rocky Brashear, school board president, urging the district to revoke the suspensions and expunge the students' records.

"This disciplinary action is wholly disproportionate to the offense, given that the video caused no disruption of educational activities and was only seen by those who elected to watch it on YouTube," said the letter, which was sent by Witold J. Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Joan E. Bertin, executive director of the New York City-based NCAC.

Brownsville solicitor James Davis said officials believe the discipline was appropriate because the behavior was inappropriate.

Most Harlem Shake videos, for those unfamiliar with the thousands posted on sites such as YouTube, show one person, then several people, dancing to a song by music producer Baauer.

In an interview last month, Mr. Brashear described the Brownsville students' version as "graphic," and said the students were suspended due to their conduct, because they refused to listen to a substitute teacher's instructions to stop and because the act of filming in a classroom created a safety issue.

Mr. Walczak, in a phone interview, called the suspensions "a pretty harsh punishment." He asked students who had been affected to contact the ACLU.

Brownsville High, however, is not alone in taking disciplinary action against students doing the Harlem Shake, said Michael O'Neil, communications director for the NCAC, which is calling on schools to protect free expression rights for students, including performing the Harlem Shake.

"This goes back to the kind of campus fads that have been part of American culture since flagpole sitting and seeing how many kids can fit into an old Volkswagen Bug," he said.

The major difference, he said, is now those fads can be posted on the Internet.

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Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to:


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