US principal under fire after student, 17, loses scholarship for 'twerking' video

Composite of Kaylee Timonet, inset photo of Jason St Pierre
The principal is facing widespread backlash for his response to footage of a 17yos student twerking at a party. Photo credit: Instagram / Livingston Parish Public Schools

A school principal has issued a public apology amid intense backlash over his response to a female student 'twerking' at a party.   

After footage of 17-year-old Kaylee Timonet dancing behind a friend at a homecoming after-party was shared on social media, Jason St Pierre - the principal of Walker High School in the US state of Louisiana - removed Timonet from her role as the president of the Student Government Association as punishment. 

Additionally, he withdrew his endorsement of Timonet's application for a school scholarship, an accolade only awarded to two students each year - prompting an uproar among the wider community.   

The teen has since claimed she was forced to watch the video of herself twerking while in St Pierre's office, before being told she should be "ashamed" of her behaviour.

"They basically told me I should be ashamed of myself and that they were concerned about my afterlife if I wasn't following basically God's ideals, which made me cry even more," she told local news site Unfiltered with Kiran.   

"I felt like my life was over. All I was doing was having innocent fun. I was mortified."  

Her mother, Rachel, claims she was not included in the initial meeting between the 17-year-old and the principal. She also took issue with St Pierre for allegedly questioning her daughter about her religious beliefs, noting it's a public school.

Speaking to The Advocate, Rachel Timonet alleged that St Pierre said to her daughter that she wasn't "living in the Lord's way" and printed out Bible verses with highlighted sections. 

The principal's actions have sparked a groundswell of support within the school and community, with Timonet's peers selling T-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as 'Let the Girl Dance' and 'I Stand with Kaylee Timonet'.  

"The video was not inappropriate whatsoever. I was just so afraid that people were going to hate me after that," Timonet said. "Seeing that people were supporting me no matter what and seeing that my accomplishments were still noticed means the world."  

Following the backlash, St Pierre met with the Timonet family and school district staff before issuing a public apology on Sunday (local time), which currently remains on the homepage of the Walker High School website.    

"I believe it is necessary to respond to the public attention that has resulted from my actions regarding Kaylee Timonet's participation in a dance party that was sponsored at an off-site location following WHS Homecoming," the apology begins.  

"I have had time to consider my actions, have conversations with the Timonets, and meet with district staff. First, let me say that I have apologized to the Timonets and I am hopeful that my scheduled meeting with Kaylee's mom will rectify this situation and allow Kaylee to enjoy the remainder of her senior year at Walker High School."  

St Pierre confirmed that as "corrective action", he will be reinstating Timonet's position on the Student Government Association, as well as resubmit his endorsement for her scholarship application.  

"Our student government members are held to a high standard of student behaviour. While I stand by that premise, I do believe that standard deserves the input of not just myself and top administrators, but also those student leaders. I hope to create a path moving forward where we can work together to create clear expectations for all," he went on.  

"Finally, during my conversation with Kaylee regarding the dance party, the subject of religious beliefs was broached by Kaylee and myself. While that conversation was meant with the best intentions, I do understand it is not my responsibility to determine what students' or others' religious beliefs may be - that should be the responsibility of the individual.  

"As principal of Walker High School, I am faced daily with many difficult decisions for the interest of our students and employees that are never taken lightly. Please know that I always strive to place our students first in every decision. It is for that reason that I have taken this corrective action."  

However, Timonet's mother isn't satisfied, noting that as her daughter's scholarship application was due on October 3, resubmitting his endorsement was "too little, too late".  

"[St Pierre] mentioned reinstating the scholarship, I let him know that the scholarship deadline was done, and the damage that he's done to her is done," she told WAFB.

The firestorm of support for Timonet has continued across social media, with many rallying around the teen in the wake of the school scandal and inundating her Instagram with messages of solidarity.  

Amid calls for St Pierre's resignation, he put in an application on Tuesday (local time) with the local school district for a leave of absence for the remainder of the school year, according to the Livingston Parish News.