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Is penalty for “senior pranks” too harsh? Some Eastern students, parent think so

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Seniors who participated in the “pranks” have been suspended, banned from participation in graduation ceremonies

Two Eastern High School seniors told The Alamance News this week that they didn’t vandalize the school and that they stayed behind late into the night of May 25 to clean up “senior pranks” that they described as mostly toilet paper streamers and Saran wrap.

Both seniors – as well as an Eastern High School parent – also said this week that they were under the impression that seniors had been given permission in advance to do the senior pranks on the night of May 25.

Eastern High School seniors Genesis Chinchilla, 17, of Mebane, who also plays on girls’ soccer team, and Alejandro Martinez, a member of the National Honor Society, said they had been told there wouldn’t be any punishment if they cleaned everything up.

Instead, Chinchilla and Martinez have been suspended for the rest of the school year, which ends tomorrow, and prohibited from participating in commencement exercises on Saturday afternoon.

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Chinchilla and Martinez said in separate interviews Monday that the buildings were unlocked when they got there, but they weren’t sure how or by whom.

Eastern High School parent Candy Clarke – whose daughter is a senior but didn’t participate in the pranks – told The Alamance News that the doors and windows at Eastern High School had been left open on May 25 for seniors to come back and do their “pranks.”

“These students are being treated incorrectly,” Clarke said in an interview Tuesday. “They went to the principal to ask for permission [in advance] and were given permission – as long as they did no damage, it was approved. It was the same night as the band concert, so students were allowed on campus after 3:00 or 4:00 p.m.”

Clarke told the newspaper “doors and windows were left open for these students” to do senior pranks at Eastern High School the night of May 25. Later that evening, the band teacher had notified Eastern High School principal Dr. Whitney Fliehman that the pranks had happened, Clarke said Tuesday.

“[The band concert] was over around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m.,” Clarke said. “Dr. Fliehman told these students if they cleaned up there would be no repercussions.”

Fliehman, the principal at Eastern High School, had not responded to an inquiry by The Alamance News as of press time Wednesday night.

“All allegations are being investigated” to determine whether any school employees knew about the senior pranks beforehand but took no action to prevent the damage, ABSS officials told the newspaper Wednesday.

 

Students inside Eastern High School for more than an hour
Chinchilla and Martinez said in separate interviews this week that they just “went inside” Eastern High School out of curiosity but hadn’t actively participated in trashing the property that night.

Chinchilla said she was warned beforehand – but couldn’t recall by whom – “not to do anything serious.” She said she and her friends had been both inside and on the campus at Eastern High School about an hour-and-a-half the night of May 25 before law enforcement arrived.

Not long after Mebane police showed up, Chinchilla said her principal arrived at the high school, at around 10:30 p.m., and assured the students that, as long as they cleaned everything up, there would be no punishment. Chinchilla said she and her friends stayed until around 1:00 a.m. cleaning up the mess.

At Eastern High School, the students threw toilet paper streamers, confetti, and flour in the courtyard; wrote on sidewalks and a senior flag with watercolor; smeared Vaseline and ketchup on door handles; and wrapped poles with saran wrap, ABSS officials told the newspaper last week. Approximately 27 students had been involved in the senior pranks at Eastern High School, according to school officials.

“It was all innocent fun. . . My parents are really disappointed in the school system for punishing us so harshly. [Superintendent] Dain Butler said he’s getting us ready for the real world, but he definitely overstepped, because even in the [code of] student conduct, it says for trespassing [the punishment is] either community service or no graduation ceremony – which is the harsher one.”

– Alejandro Martinez, suspended Eastern High School senior and first high school graduate in her family

‘All innocent fun’
“It was all innocent fun,” said Martinez, who, like Chinchilla, is a first-generation high school graduate.

Martinez told the newspaper Monday that she got caught up in the moment but would’ve never participated in the senior pranks had she known what consequences she’d face.

“We did a group chat for all the seniors,” Martinez recalled in the interview. “One of the kids in there said that, as long as it’s not vandalism, it was fine. I’m pretty sure they asked the principal [beforehand]. The night of the prank, the principal said to the people that stayed if we all cleaned up, it would be fine.”

Martinez confirmed Chinchilla’s account that the seniors had been on campus for well over an hour before police or the principal, Fliehman, arrived at the high school around 10:30 p.m. that night.

“In my mind, I didn’t think any of this was going to happen,” Martinez explained. “If the principal had told me something was going to happen, I wouldn’t have gone…We just walked around watching other people saran wrap, do streamers, but it was all cleanable.”

While Martinez says she’s been done with her classes since early May – when she took her Advanced Placement exams – she was devastated to learn she won’t be able to go to graduation, or attend other senior celebrations.

“We have cried over this,” Martinez explained. “This is not a light subject; I’m first-generation so it’s heavy on me because my parents never got the opportunity to do graduation…We got punished – no [senior] picnic, no elementary [school] walk – but then no [graduation] walk was on another level.”

“These students are being treated incorrectly. They went to the principal to ask for permission [in advance] and were given permission – as long as they did no damage, it was approved. It was the same night as the band concert, so students were allowed on campus after 3:00 or 4:00 p.m.”

“I’m just trying to be a voice for these students – they were given permission; they were told there would be no consequences. For him [ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler] to come in after the fact and change the whole game – that’s not right.”

– Eastern High school parent Candy Clarke, parent of a student who did not take part in the “senior prank”

 

Eastern parent: They were given permission
Now, the Eastern parent, says her daughter is telling her, “‘I can’t graduate with my friends; I don’t want to rub it in their face because I’m able to walk and they’re not,’” Candy Clarke told the newspaper. “I’m just trying to be a voice for these students – they were given permission; they were told there would be no consequences. For him [ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler] to come in after the fact and change the whole game – that’s not right.”

“These students, this is their first offense ever,” Clarke added. “They’re denying them to graduate, to walk [at commencement].”

Instead, Martinez and Chinchilla said they’ve been told they can pick up their diplomas next week.

“My parents are really disappointed in the school system for punishing us so harshly,” Martinez told the newspaper. “[Superintendent] Dain Butler said he’s getting us ready for the real world, but he definitely overstepped, because even in the [code of] student conduct, it says for trespassing [the punishment is] either community service or no graduation ceremony – which is the harsher one.”

Martinez says this is the first time that she’s ever gotten in trouble at school.
For her part, Clarke believes that the ABSS administration is bound to have known beforehand that the senior pranks were planned the night of May 25. She also believes that the seniors at Eastern don’t deserve the same level of punishment as those at Williams.

“For someone that did all this damage [at Williams High School] and someone that just did streamers and cellophane, it’s not the same,” said Clarke.

Meanwhile, Chinchilla, a member of the Eastern girls’ soccer team, learned after the fact that she wouldn’t be allowed to play in the championship game last weekend, or to go to Raleigh with her teammates on Tuesday to be recognized by members of the General Assembly, she said in the interview. “There was no confirmation to say this would happen,” Chinchilla said, referring to the fact that she has been suspended from campus, barred from participating in the soccer championship game last weekend, or from attending commencement this Saturday. “If I knew,” she said, “I wouldn’t have gone.

“There were students who were there who didn’t get punished,” Chinchilla said. “[The superintendent’s] reasoning was [it] was because they didn’t enter the building. We believe we should get fair punishment; we weren’t there for long. We just went inside to look around, be nosy, but we didn’t take any part. There wasn’t any physical damage or vandalism at all.”

Chinchilla insists she and her friends have taken full responsibility for their involvement in the senior pranks at Eastern, though she acknowledges it was an error in judgment on her part – even though she says the buildings were unlocked when she got there that night.

“We know what we did wasn’t correct. . . We’ve been working hard for 13 years – this is a milestone. We know what we did wasn’t the smartest thing; we owned up to it. We accept what we did was wrong, but the punishment was a bit too severe.”

“Years prior, they had done this, and there was no issue.”

– Genesis Chinchilla, suspended eastern senior who was also banned from participating in girls’ soccer state championship game

 

‘A senior tradition’
“We know what we did wasn’t correct,” said Chinchilla, a member of the Eagles’ girls’ soccer team. “This sucks, because I’ve been looking forward to this. We’ve been working hard for 13 years – this is a milestone. We know what we did wasn’t the smartest thing; we owned up to it. We accept what we did was wrong, but the punishment was a bit too severe.”

“Years prior, they had done this, and there was no issue,” the 17-year-old Chinchilla recalled Monday, adding that around the end of her freshman year, seniors had filled the gym with confetti and balloons. “Every year, every senior does it…It’s a senior tradition at this point. We thought it would be a fun high school memory. I didn’t think about it in the moment – we didn’t think anything we did was too severe.”

The Eastern parent, Clarke, also insisted that Fliehman had known beforehand about the senior pranks that were planned for May 25 – and even left the doors open for the students.
The two seniors from Eastern, Chinchilla and Martinez, said they weren’t sure why the security alarms didn’t sound that night.

“Some things I don’t know,” Chinchilla told the newspaper. “I don’t know about the alarms [whether they had been left disarmed once school let out for the day]. The only way they got other students is because of the cameras. Never, at any point, did I vandalize anything. We went in there because we were curious to see what other students were doing.”

Martinez is planning to attend Appalachian State University to study nursing, she said Monday.

Chinchilla said she has enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and hopes to study criminology or criminal justice in college.

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