Wednesday evening, Dec. 14, the Saugerties school district will host a public screening of “Audrie & Daisy,” a documentary produced by Netflix which links the topics of sexual assault, cyber-bullying and suicide. School officials say it is important for parents and students to be aware of all three.
The film explores the impact of the sexual assault and subsequent cyberbullying of two teenage girls on opposite sides of the country on their families, schools and communities. The filmmakers realized during screenings of the film that the subject lent itself well to public discourse in school communities about sexual assault and the widening role social media sometimes has in further marginalizing its victims.
According to Saugerties High School principal Thomas Averill, the school was contacted by the filmmakers. The information was reviewed with assistant principal Ginger Vail. The school decided a public screening might fit in with the kNOw MORE initiative, a district-organized program designed to help students navigate the difficulties faces by kids in the modern age. Averill said the film was first screened by faculty during a staff development day. A public screening for high school parents and their children was deemed better than showing the film in an assembly during school hours.
“Some of the information is very graphic,” Averill explained. “It’s very real. We want to put this content in the parents’ hands, not necessarily show it to all students at once. And there’s an age issue as well. I think it’s a good one for the parents to decide if they even want to broach that topic with their child. Some parents might not want to depending on the age of their children, or the level of innocence that they have regarding some of these difficult topics we have in our society.”
In a letter sent home to parents about the screening, school officials said, “The intent of this screening is not to problem solve in real time, but have thoughtful conversations about the next steps for our school community. Following the film, discussions will be led by a panel of professionals from our school and community organizations.”
Averill said the district was in conversations with experts at Bard College. School officials will also be involved in the discussions following the screening. The Audrie & Daisy website offers insight into how to open a dialogue about these important, but difficult, topics.
“They really did a lot of work on the educational piece of this,” said Averill. “There’s a lot of background information we can use and pick apart some pieces to use in high-school health class, for example.”
The free screening will take place in the high school auditorium next Wednesday, December 14 at 6:30 p.m. It will be open to high-school students and their parents and guardians. Parents and guardians of junior-high students are encouraged to view the documentary themselves first before deciding how or whether to share the information with their children.
“We just thought we should offer our school community a screening and open up that conversation with parents and students,” said Averill. “We’re really trying to push the parents to be with their child here. Or parents can come and screen it themselves. It’s a fine line what the school’s role is and the parents’ role. This is an important topic, and I know a lot of parents have expressed that they wrestle with social media, they wrestle with substance abuse, and the sexual piece behind that. I think this touches upon all those topics that we deal with. When you get the parents and community involved it becomes a stronger message. In this case we’re looking at it as more of a service for the parents in a controlled setting that we can then have a discussion after and get their opinions.”
How far the post-screening discussions will go will be partly based upon how many people attend. Small-group discussions could give more people an opportunity to have their voices heard. While the documentary deals with very difficult subject matter, Averill said it was important enough that the district wanted to include as many parents and students as possible.
“Obviously in a high-school setting we’re always dealing with experimentation, with drugs, all the topics covered in the video there are students who unfortunately have experienced bits and pieces of that,” Averill added. The relatively contemporary wrinkle that technology provides may still be catching parents off guard.
“People sometimes look at a phone as a little box that’s not a problem. But they [the children] are open to the world with that,” the principal added. “And there’s some ugliness out there in the world. And we have to be able to make good decisions when we use that very powerful technology. Technology is pervasive. It can be a huge distraction, because your mind is always on checking the next thing that’s coming through. It’s a wave that’s overtaken us, and it can’t be stopped. We still have in our code of conduct that phones are prohibited. But at this point it would be naive to think they’re not constantly in use. It’s a dilemma that every school is struggling with.”
For more information on the screening of Audrie & Daisy, visit the kNOw MORE link on the school district’s website: https://saugerties.schoolwires.com/Page/9614. For more information on the documentary, visit: www.audrieanddaisy.com.