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Police presence increased at GW after 'threatening comments'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Police presence was briefly increased at George Washington High School Wednesday as controversy continued to swirl around a decision by administrators to bring an abstinence-only advocate to the school last week.

A handful of police cars were parked outside GW Wednesday morning. One officer stayed through the school day, patrolling the area.

Charleston Police Lt. Shawn Williams called the display a "showing of police presence" after a death threat was made against Principal George Aulenbacher on Facebook.

Police are still investigating but have determined the threat came from out of state and probably isn't credible. 

But it was the latest development in a contentious week at the South Hills school.

On April 9 the school allowed Pam Stenzel, an advocate of abstinence who speaks across the country, to give a presentation at an assembly that raised concerns among some teachers and students.

A local religious group sponsored Stenzel's visit.

GW senior Katelyn Campbell called the event an exercise in "slut-shaming." She decried Stenzel's remarks that "if you are on birth control, your mother probably hates you" and her "small word of warning for our ninth grade girls who will date anything that walks."    

Campbell went to the media with her disapproval last week, and the case made national news. She was interviewed on CNN earlier this week, and a number of national media outlets picked up the story.

On Monday Cambell filed a request for an injunction in Kanawha Circuit Court.

In that filing, she says that after Aulenbacher saw the new reports, he called her into his office and threatened to call Wellesley College, the prestigious women's college near Boston that Campbell plans to attend in the fall, to tell them she was a "backstabber."

She's asking the court to intervene to prevent him from following through with that threat.

On Wednesday, Wellesley alumnae created a petition congratulating Campbell on her activism and welcoming her to the school. By press time it had nearly 600 signatures.

Campbell also asked Aulenbacher to resign and to apologize to the school and the community.

A slew of negative comments showed up on social media, especially on the Facebook page created to disseminate news about the controversy -- "The Average Teenager is Not a Slut."

One GW parent, Ashley Switzer, started a Facebook group called "Friends of Aulenbacher." By Wednesday evening it had been "liked" more than 700 times.

"We just wanted to show that there's another side," Switzer said in a phone interview. "Any time you're in the public eye and your character is brought out to the public in a negative light, you need to know there are parents who will stick their necks out for you."

Switzer said she has been surprised by the violent tone of some of the comments on that page and she thinks most have been attacks on people who are sticking by the principal.

Meanwhile, Cheri Callaghan, a parent who has vocally supported the students who criticized the assembly, said she has had attacks lobbed her way and they've all felt "personal."

"It seems like the story and the passions have really taken on a life of their own," she said.

Callaghan and Switzer, like many in the community, have different opinions on last week's assembly. Switzer thinks it was fine for a public school setting; Callaghan thinks it had no place there.

But both said the escalation of the conflict had more to do with emotions in the aftermath of the assembly than with the assembly itself.

"Right or wrong, at the end of the day I believe a part of a person's public education is that of being a citizen," Callaghan said. "And the lessons that the kids are learning about the costs of being an activist are good -- painful but good."

Representatives of both sides plan to attend the Kanawha County school board meeting at 7 p.m. today at the central office on Elizabeth Street. The meeting is open to the public.

GW is no stranger to controversy.

Last spring, students protested the school system's decisions to block out-of-area transfers to the crowded high school. The moratorium recently was lifted for the upcoming year. This year, two students submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, looking for information on the county's plans to redistrict in the South Hills area.

The school board eventually voted not to redistrict in South Hills.

In the 1990s, three GW students were featured in an issue of Teen People after they filed a lawsuit against the city to stop police from enforcing a citywide midnight curfew on teenagers.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.


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