Connecticut high school students make online bracket of female classmates

FAIRFIELD, Connectictu (WABC) -- Students at two Connecticut high schools created an online NCAA Tournament style bracket of female classmates, according to a letter sent to parents by the schools' principals.

Fairfield Ludlow High School Principal Greg Hatzis and Fairfied Warde High School Principal Paul Cavan said in the letter than the bracket was posted on a social media platform and participants were encouraged to vote for one name in each pairing.

Valentina Candini attends Fairfield Warde, and she was on the list.

"My parents were really offended by it, and so was my sister," she said. "So it was really hard for my family to take it."

The bracket spread like wildfire and quickly caught the attention of the principals.

"We strongly condemn this behavior which is damaging and disparaging to all young women in the freshmen classes of both schools, but also to all Fairfield students and indeed, all women," they wrote. "It is discouraging that not only did someone create this post, but other students 'liked' it, and this will be addressed. Our high schools are deeply committed to promoting respect for all students."

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They said an investigation is underway, and those responsible will face consequences.

"We take this situation very seriously and commit to a thorough investigation," they wrote. "We also commit to providing support to any student who feels victimized or hurt by these actions. We plan to address this with our school communities. We encourage families to have a conversation around why this is inappropriate and the implications that surround bad decisions that involve social media and the long term ramifications."

They said some of the originators were identified, but it is believed that a third party perpetuated the post and created the voting mechanism.

"I don't think it should've gotten out this much, like it was blowing up on TikTok, kids around the world knew about it, I mean around the country knew about it," student Heloisa Luz said. "So I feel like it shouldn't have gotten that big. It was just a simple little mistake that the kid already said sorry."

Additionally, they said they have no power to remove the post, which can only be done by the account holder.

Some students said there was another bracket that had boys pitted against each other.

"Any act that negatively targets a group based on gender, race, nationality, religion, sexual-orientation, learning difference, or any other distinguishing characteristic will not be tolerated," they wrote. "We share the disgust expressed by students, parents, and staff from both schools about this act."

Still, they said they will work with families to ensure student posts are removed.

"As a reminder, not all the facts have come to light," they wrote. "Please allow our school staff to complete our investigation. We want to commend all the students and community members who served as allies in this circumstance and reported the behavior."

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They are now asking for tips from students, and while they can be made anonymously, they are hoping contact information is provided.

"As a community, we can bind together to not only address the negative behavior, but also teach the important lessons that come from the unfortunate choices of a few," they wrote. "The strong reaction to this event underscores the values that we collectively hold as a Fairfield community."

Superintendent Mike Cummings sent his own letter to parents Wednesday, saying that those behind the bracket are now being targeted themselves.

"The persons originally involved in creating the list of girls' names are not responsible for posting polls, voting systems, or the multiple fake accounts that continue to proliferate," he wrote. "However, these individuals and their families are being personally, targeted, bullied, and threatened based on false and misleading accusations. We condemn all forms of harassment and ask that no one escalate the situation further. We risk losing sight of the real issues and the ability to appropriately address them in productive ways that help our children make better choices going forward."

He also released a statement from a freshman girl who was personally affected who asked her mother to pass on the message.

"I think the adults here are a big part of the issue," she wrote. "Obviously he messed up. but that does not give anyone the right to send him threats or shame his family. I think by assuming things and getting angry, it is overshadowing the bigger issue, which was the fact that these girls were being objectified."

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