When I was 16, I went on a high school trip to the then-Soviet Union. The trip was fascinating and horrible all at once, and will most certainly be the subject of a stand-up act one day. When we traveled to Odessa—an entire swath of failing nation-state without heat—my best friend and I kept warm by kissing identical twins in a pitch-black hotel room. That is, she kissed one and I kissed the other. Though I couldn’t see her, I found my friend’s presence reassuring, especially since, from a genetic standpoint, we were essentially kissing the same person. That evening remains a sweet—if surreal—memory of our growing up together.
How times have changed. These days, kids not only go beyond “first base” on school trips, they have to worry that someone’s making a sex tape of them while they do so. Leesport, Pennsylvania, high-schooler Anders Hemdal, 16, was videotaped having sex with his girlfriend while on a Spanish club trip to Spain and Morocco. The couple was secretly recorded by one of their classmates, and that classmate distributed the video to other kids, humiliating the pair. Hemdal was upset enough to tell his teachers about it. Instead of sympathy, officials from the Schuylkill Valley School District suspended him for misconduct: Apparently, the Spanish club prohibits el sexo in Casablanca.
This raises many questions, chief among them, who would have guessed that kids in the Schuylkill Valley School District traveled to Casablanca for Spanish club trips? I barely know where Casablanca is on a map. And also, shouldn’t the focus be on the kid who’s morphing into Larry Flynt at age 16? Sounds like he could use some counseling before he goes to college and secretly videotapes his gay roommate.
As for the infraction, of course students aren’t supposed to have sex on a school trip; they’re not supposed to drink wine or try hash or do any of the things that high-schoolers inevitably do on a trip to Europe. Was it the wrong place and the wrong time for Hemdal and his girlfriend to have sex? Well, isn’t it always in high school? If not, perhaps the adults would like to remind me where the approved teenage-sex area is.
Hemdal was an A student involved in all kinds of nerdy extracurriculars. He was not a troublemaker. He’d had the same girlfriend for two years. The sex was consensual, and from what I’ve read about Hemdal, he probably wore five condoms. His earnestness might explain why he was so emotionally devastated by the sex tape’s distribution. As a result of this distress, his parents and his girlfriend’s parents met to discuss how they could help their kids deal with the emotional fallout. Four adults thought it made sense to talk as adults. They were wrong.
What kind of Puritan schoolmarms are in charge of Schuylkill Valley High? Taking Hemdal’s record into account; the parental support for both parties; and the fact that it’s a clear-cut and all too familiar case of cyberbullying, suspending Hemdal was a by-the-book but ridiculous decision.
Unfortunately, Hemdal’s parents have made another ridiculous decision: to drag this into our already overburdened legal system by suing the school for thousands of dollars. What a huge waste of time and money for everyone involved. And it’s certainly not going to help Anders Hemdal put the humiliation behind him.
Parents, let this be a cautionary tale. School trips are great, but learning about other cultures is just one part of what happens. It also happens that kids end up kissing identical twins in a Communist country or get videotaped having sex in Casablanca. As for Anders Hemdal, all I can say is, here’s looking at you, kid.