A crackdown on streaking at Palo Alto High School has reduced the count of violators from more than 100 in the 2012-13 academic year to just two this year, the school's principal said.
On the first day of school, Principal Kim Diorio sent a warning to Paly families that students would face serious consequences for streaking. The community-wide notice came after a pair of male students had streaked that day at lunch, prompting two-day suspensions.
Diorio renewed the warning this spring as the traditional "streak week" season approached, accompanying police officers to senior classes to remind students that the penalty for students caught streaking would be a two-day suspension.
The warnings apparently were heeded as Diorio said the school has counted no streakers since the two students were suspended last August. "I'm really proud of this graduating class," she said this week. "They did the right thing, which isn't always the easy thing. There were a lot of adults who doubted that this tradition would end, but I just really believed in the kids."
In interviews on the last day of school May 29, students said the absence of streakers this year had been noticeable and not an entirely welcome development.
"I think it's a little sad that a lot of traditions had to change, but it is what it is," said a junior named Sarah, who declined to give her last name for fear of offending Diorio.
"Personally, (the streaking) wasn't bothering me. People are making it sound like it's the students who decided to make this change and it was a choice but there were huge consequences for not complying."
Sarah said the campus atmosphere this year had been "very tense kind of like a staredown (over streaking).
"The senior class complied and it kind of worked out for everybody. I think a lot of students understood she was kind of forced into that position."
Diorio was named principal last July, a month after the scsool district learned that Paly was under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for its compliance with federal Title IX laws designed to ensure an "educational environment free of sexual harassment, and whether (the school) responds promptly and effectively to complaints or other notice of sexual harassment."
That investigation which apparently was initiated by the OCR as a broad compliance review not focused on a particular case or student remains open. It's unclear whether the probe had been sparked by reports of streaking, an April 2013 student magazine report describing a "rape culture" among students or other factors. OCR investigators visited Paly last month to interview staff members.
Diorio said she mentioned the federal investigation in her warnings to students this spring about streaking. "I wanted them to understand why the streaking was considered offensive by many people and needs to end," she said.
But students interviewed last week said Diorio's crackdown seemed like an overreaction.
"Going into class with police officers is excessive," said a junior, who declined to give her name. "I understand a lot of stuff is going on with Paly and the Palo Alto Unified School District, but I just think it's sad that a tradition had to end."
The student and her four friends, also juniors, agreed that streaking had gotten out of hand in 2013 extending beyond the traditional "streak week" into "streak month" but said a complete ban was no solution.
"We're a spirit-heavy school and streak week was part of that, and it feels like something's missing now," said one.
Said another: "The idea of streaking was started by the generation that's trying to stop it now. It's like our parents are the ones who started streaking and now they're not OK for us to do it," he said, adding that his father told him he had streaked in libraries.
Diorio, who spent six years as assistant principal at Paly before getting the top job, said she'd heard from alumni from the 1960s and 1970s that streaking had been done, but typically by just one or two students. A longtime staff member said Paly hadn't had a spring without streaking since 1991.
"What changed is that in the last four years it grew to 40, 70, 100, 120 it kept getting bigger and bigger," she said. "It started as a tradition of one or two kids on the last day of senior classes, which was then called streak week.
"But last year it started on April 29 and went to the last day of school it was an entire month-long event at brunch and lunch and was pretty out of control."
The numbers grew so large it became impossible to catch all violators to issue suspensions, she said, although some did receive suspensions. Paly's student handbook lists suspension and police summons as possible consequences for streaking as well as for other violations, including throwing water balloons or eggs, climbing onto roofs or placing students in trashcans.
The streaking crackdown was one of several initiatives launched by Diorio to improve "school climate" this year. Others included a "shadowing" program in which teachers spend a day as a student on campus, going through a typical day. About 30 teachers, as well as she herself, participated, Diorio said, "developing that student empathy, understanding what it was like to be a student on our campus."
Borrowing an idea from Gunn High School, she named longtime teacher Eric Bloom as a "teacher on special assignment" with the specific goal of improving school climate. She also expanded Paly's participation and participated herself in two independent programs aimed at addressing student social-emotional concerns, Camp Everytown and Not In Our Schools Week.
At Camp Everytown, where Diorio joined about 45 students for an overnight stay in November, kids discussed "diverse perspectives in campus, understanding stereotypes, bullying, harassment, understanding what it's like to have a physical disability, understanding poverty and affluence and the extremes in our community," she said.
In her graduation speech May 28, Diorio thanked seniors for teaching her "the importance of empathy, courage and leading from the heart." In a veiled reference to streaking, she praised students for having the "courage to choose a new path."
This week she said, "Our work will continue next year, but at least for this year the freshmen got to have a spring where they weren't subjected to 100-plus streakers. Teachers came out of their classrooms in May, out onto the quad, participating in more events than before. It was a good end of the school year for many people."