The prank, which involved about 80 Heritage students, occurred the evening of Thursday, May 31. Parents took legal action earlier this week, requesting that the suspended students be allowed to take all of their final exams and walk in the commencement ceremony.
Heritage officials decided earlier this week to cut the suspension to two days, allowing students to return to campus Wednesday.
Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge David B. Flinn on Tuesday upheld that decision. Tests missed on Monday and Tuesday will be made up at teachers’ discretion, in line with the state’s education code. The students who were suspended will not be able to participate in the graduation ceremony.
“It’s just a really really unfortunate situation on so many levels,” said Liberty Union High School District Superintendent Eric Volta. “I truly believe that the school did what it could to communicate to the students that any participation in a prank would result in their commencement privileges being taken away.”
Walnut Creek-based attorney Peter Johnson, representing the families of 12 of the suspended students, said the seniors’ transcripts will be on hold until the matter is resolved.
“I don’t feel good about the fact that the stay wasn’t issued,” Johnson said. “I can’t assure them they’ll be able to do all of their finals, and they won’t be able to walk at commencement.”
Another hearing, scheduled at the Martinez courthouse for Thursday, June 14 at 9 a.m., will deal with the legality of a school withholding final exams during a suspension.
Johnson and Heritage principal Larry Oshodi said several teachers approve of the suspension and are not likely to grant make-up exams. The principal believes that the students’ actions crossed the line from pranksterism to vandalism.
But some students feel otherwise. “Our teachers are inappropriate,” said suspended senior Zach Szopinski. “The teachers are treating us like we’re grade-A criminals.”
Oshodi said students were warned beforehand that any act of vandalism as a result of a senior prank would lead to discipline, including suspensions and the inability to participate in the commencement ceremony. Originally, the length of the suspension was five days, but district officials shortened it to two.
Ray Valverde, president of the LUHSD Board, agreed with Oshodi’s ruling. He noted that nearly all the suspended students should have earned enough credits to receive diplomas, but their grade point average would be hurt.
“Anybody’s entitled to legal action,” Valverde said, “but we’ve used taxpayers’ money to build the school and we have a responsibility not only to the Heritage community but to the whole district to protect our interest.”
The lamb, which Brentwood police found chained to a light pole on campus early Monday morning, is in good health. According to Abe Gamez, deputy director of Contra Costa County Animal Services, the lamb was not injured and will be held at the county facility in Martinez until someone adopts it or it is turned over to a rescue group.
Volta believes that a group of students purchased the lamb.
Most of the paint has been cleaned up, but faint red marks still stain the concrete on various parts of the campus. Oshodi said many of the banners stolen early Friday morning have since been recovered.
A concrete bench was moved around, and stickers reading “I don’t give a (expletive), I’m a senior” were posted all over the school. Oshodi also found one of those stickers on his door.
“Is the suspension appropriate? Yes it is,” Oshodi said Monday. “It’s what we would’ve done any other time of year.”
Szopinski said the only planned prank was for students to dip their feet in washable paint and run around campus as a way to leave their mark. But according to Szopinski, things got out of hand. He claims that he had already left by the time another group of students brought a sheep to campus and chained it to a light pole.
The students in question feel that by going back on Sunday to clean their mess, as well as publically apologizing, they’ve paid their penalty and should be allowed to walk with their classmates. Seniors also stood outside the school Monday morning, holding signs that read “Sorry” and other expressions of remorse.
At Tuesday’s hearing in Martinez, students and parents registered their objections to Heritage’s leadership, stating that the decision to suspend was heavy-handed. Students said the prank started innocently, but spun out of control. Parents are worried that the decision to bar students from taking final exams could be disastrous to their college plans.
Oshodi said Monday that most suspended students would be allowed to receive their diplomas, but their grade point average would suffer as a result.
“The process that the school did was unduly – it wasn’t the correct way,” said Marcie, a mother of a suspended senior. “I’d rather have them go to the police to find the real other people. It’s not fair that my son got suspended. What about all the other kids?”
Remarks painted all over windows on campus, apparently generated by the Class of 2010, were discovered Monday morning. But Heritage officials believe they were unrelated to the prior prank. Oshodi was shocked and saddened when he found them and expressed hope that defacing school property doesn’t become an annual tradition at Brentwood’s newest high school.
There has also been evidence of students making threats against fellow classmates accused of snitching – another grievance Heritage officials are taking seriously.