By Ethan Forman
DANVERS — It's no surprise that using bad language in school can get you into hot water. But "meep"?
Danvers High parents recently got an automated call from the principal warning them that if students say or display the word "meep" at school, they could face suspension.
Meep doesn't mean much, unless you are Beaker — the hapless, orange-haired assistant to Dr. Bunsen Honeydew on "The Muppet Show."
While meep may be nonsense, what it represented was no laughing matter to the high school's administration. High school Principal Thomas Murray said students were using it and other words to disrupt school in a particular part of the building on Cabot Road. The term later became part of a disruption some students were planning online.
"It's really not about the word in particular," Murray said. "The reason for the message (was) a group of students were instructed to refrain from that language and other language in a particular part of the building."
Murray gave students "a reasonable request" not to use the word to disrupt school in a hallway, and to stop other behaviors, but they did not listen, Murray said.
"Students were not going along with the direction or refraining from a particular type of language," he said.
Murray did not elaborate on how the students were acting out. But he did say the phone call home was an attempt to head off a disruption being planned on the social networking Web site Facebook.
The disruption never happened, and Murray credited students for heeding his warning.
Murray said the school must react when online activity crosses paths with the school day. To that end, some students — Murray did not say how many — were suspended, but there were additional factors involved in their suspension unrelated to simply saying "meep."
"There were multiple reasons why students have been disciplined," Murray said.
And, he said, the matter was not about banning meep at Danvers High.
"It has nothing to do with the word," Murray said. "It has to do with the conduct of the students. We wouldn't just ban a word just to ban a word."
Murray said he called parents via the automated message phone system warning students not to use the term because "it would be seen as going against the request of the administration and cause a disruption to the school day."
Murray said students were not using the term to harass another student or a teacher.
"It's really about language and conduct," Murray said. "For me, it boils down to respectful conduct."
It's unclear what meaning "meep" has, other than it is a popular thing for kids to say when they are at a loss for something to say, according to various Web sites.
A group on Facebook called Meep has 370 members, for instance, and lists three Danvers High students as members. The category heading is: "Just for Fun — Totally Random," and it involves people just typing the word "meep" in various ways and expressing their fondness for the word.
Entries for the word "meep" in the online Urban Dictionary include "ouch," "uh-oh," a substitution for a swear word, a greeting, an exclamation or "a random expression of happiness used to fill gaps in conversation."
Some Danvers High students said yesterday they were not sure what "meep" means.
"No one really knows," said sophomore Melanie Crane, who said some freshmen used the term, but she has not heard the term used herself.
Other students outside Danvers High who declined to give their names said they got the phone message from Murray saying they risked suspension if they uttered the word.
They said the term is meaningless, comes from the Muppet Beaker or is a sound Japanese anime characters make. One student said nearly all the students think the whole thing is ridiculous.
Murray said the matter should be a wake-up call to parents about how kids are using social networking sites.
"I'm not sure parents are aware of what students are getting into on the Facebook sites," Murray said.
In the near future, Murray is planning a student-and-parent forum on the pitfalls of Facebook.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673 or by e-mail at eforman@salem news.com.