AUSTIN (KXAN) — KXAN obtained cell phone video showing students at the Austin Peace Academy, a local private school, putting soap in their mouths at the direction of the school principal.
Sources working at the Austin Peace Academy and two parents confirm the students were directed to put soap in their mouth for using “foul language.” Half-chewed bars of soap and student vomit were found by the janitor afterward.
In an interview, an attorney for the school Susan Soto wrote the students were “well-intentioned and are focused on their studies and personal growth. However, sometimes their choice of language leaves much to be desired — especially in a religious school setting.”
The video shows more than a dozen students in the eighth grade and high school class standing in line in front of sinks. Some students can be seen with large orange bars of soap in their mouths. One student can be seen bending over, his face in the sink as if to throw up. KXAN obtained a picture of chewed bits of orange soap lying at the bottom of the sink.
For school staff, student language is taken seriously.
“Students are reminded in class and after prayer about their word choices, and they participate in various conversations with staff and in activities that are designed to encourage students to use appropriate language,” wrote Soto, “In the Islam faith, bad or hurtful language and profanity are serious issues that affect one’s spirituality, prayer, and relation with Allah.”
The reason for the soap?
“The school’s religious studies teacher recently included in his efforts to promote positive language a suggestion that students use soap for a symbolic cleansing as a reminder for them to not repeat bad language nor to accept it from others,” wrote Soto.
Soto tells KXAN that some students took the incident too far.
“What happened, however, was a typical teenager’s reaction – several boys in the restroom took the exercise too far and began biting and licking bars of soap. The APA principal intervened, told them to stop, and then reminded them to avoid inappropriate language and to report students who do use it,” wrote Soto.
The Austin Peace Academy website states it serves “students who enroll in the school while at the same time enabling them to preserve their Islamic identity, heritage, and practices,” from Pre-K to 12th grade.
According to the school, the organization was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in 2007 and was re-accredited in 2012.
The Texas Education Agency has no oversight of private schools, according to an agency spokesman.