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Originally published May 7, 2013 at 9:16 PM | Page modified May 7, 2013 at 9:16 PM

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Online ‘hottest girls’ contest upsets Eastside schools

An underground competition conducted online and known as May Madness appears to be back in action again this year at Issaquah and Juanita high schools, to the dismay of school administrators and many students.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Among some students at Issaquah High School, a dubious contest known as May Madness has popped up in recent years almost as predictably as final exams.

But because the object of the underground competition is to determine the best-looking, or “hottest,” girls in school, administrators, teachers and many students are eager to stamp it out.

Anonymous promoters of May Madness at Issaquah High have once again posted on a Facebook page 64 yearbook-style photos of girls for one-on-one matchups in brackets patterned after sports tournaments. A girl’s name can be entered in or withheld from the contest without her permission.

Administrators have tried, without success, to find out who’s behind this year’s competition, but students have gotten more tech-savvy and stayed one step ahead of the school, Issaquah School District spokeswoman Sara Niegowski said.

Last year, the page had a direct link to the brackets and voting, but no currently functioning link is apparent on the site this year.

At least one other local school, Juanita High in Kirkland, has also seen May Madness more than once, but hasn’t matched Issaquah’s continuous history since at least 2009.

May Madness, Niegowski said, “preys on a lot of insecurities that already exist in adolescents.”

Issaquah High officials keep in touch with police, ask hosting websites to shut down May Madness, and work “back channels” to find out from students who might be responsible.

But even if May Madness promoters can be identified, they can be disciplined only if they bring that outside activity onto campus or if the activity causes a disruption at school, Niegowski said.

Twenty-eight students at Seattle’s McClure Middle School were suspended in 2010 for allegedly bullying a classmate on the Internet, because district officials said the incident caused significant disruption and concern at school.

If what happened in Issaquah happened in Seattle, Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said, the district would take a close look to see if it fell into the category of harassment or bullying.

Issaquah High’s contest lost a bit of steam last year after city police warned some students they could be guilty of criminal computer trespass for using other people’s login credentials, police Cmdr. Scott Behrbaum said.

But police haven’t received any criminal complaints this year and aren’t as involved as they were last year, Behrbaum said.

Police and school officials urged parents to talk to their children about how they use computers and whether they might be inflicting emotional pain on other students.

At Juanita High School, before matchups began among students after a one-year hiatus in May Madness, one online posting promised a “64 person bracket with a losers bracket too.”

Several Juanita students, upset by the online balloting, informed teachers and administrators of it. The school’s leadership class is responding with plans for a “kindness and respect campaign” to promote more positive values, said Lake Washington School District spokeswoman Kathryn Reith.

Administrators also spoke to students suspected of being involved in May Madness, stressing that “This isn’t the Juanita way, it’s important that everyone feels welcome at the school,” and discussed how the competition might make other students feel, Reith said.

Issaquah district spokeswoman Niegowski said she believes most students at Issaquah High — including boys — are unhappy with the hot-girl contest: “A lot of them say this isn’t what I’m about and I don’t like the fact that our school is getting this reputation and I don’t view females this way.”

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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