Nearly two dozen grievances filed with school board over discipline for ‘senior pranks’

Alamance-Burlington school officials confirmed for The Alamance News on Tuesday that a total of 23 grievances have been filed by parents and students who were suspended and/or barred from participating in graduation (see related story, this edition).

Those grievances have been filed over suspensions and other disciplinary actions related to the “senior pranks” that left thousands of dollars in damages to the six ABSS high schools late last month.

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State law gives public school students and their parents an automatic right to appeal any administrative decision, to include disciplinary action against students, the school board’s attorney, Adam Mitchell of the Tharrington Smith law firm in Raleigh, has advised the board during several earlier discussions unrelated to last month’s senior pranks.

ABSS officials barred 82 seniors from attending their graduation ceremonies last weekend. All of the students – to include four high school underclassmen – who were identified as having participated in the “senior pranks” in late May were also suspended for the rest of the 2022-23 school year that ended Friday, ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler announced at a June 1 press conference.

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Of the 82 seniors who were barred from graduation, 44 seniors were from Williams High School; 27 were from Eastern; seven were from Graham; seven were from Southern; and one was from Western High School, based on figures ABSS furnished to the newspaper last week.

A provision within the state’s public education laws automatically gives parents and students the right to file a grievance over any administrative decision – including disciplinary action – which they believe has adversely affected them.

An ABSS policy, in keeping with the provision in state law, requires a grievance to be filed within 30 days of the circumstance “giving rise to grievance” and for the school principal to meet with the complainant within five days of filing and investigate the matter. Any decision by the principal may be appealed in writing to the superintendent and board. The school board has 10 days from the date of receipt of the request to decide whether to hold a hearing on the appeal.

Those “appeal hearings” are allowed to be kept confidential, in keeping with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which provides privacy for any personally-identifiable information within students’ educational records.

Meanwhile, seven ABSS high school students – five of whom are 18 and two juveniles – have been charged with misdemeanor breaking and entering and damage to real property in connection with the May 25 senior pranks. The cases for the five 18-year-old offenders are currently scheduled to be heard in Alamance County district court between June 19 and July 28, according to their court files.

ABSS officials told the newspaper this week that, while the investigation remains ongoing, it doesn’t appear that any additional criminal charges will be filed in connection with the senior pranks.

The newspaper has not found any civil litigation filed against ABSS over the disciplinary actions related to the senior pranks.