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Parents made urgent last-minute pleas to superintendent to change punishment for ‘senior pranks,’ allow seniors to participate in graduation

Alamance News exclusive: based on public records request to school system

Alamance-Burlington school board members received dozens of complaints, and several formal grievances, following the June 1 announcement that 82 seniors would be excluded from their graduation ceremonies as a result of participating in “senior pranks” that caused thousands of dollars in damages at ABSS high schools last month, based on more than 100 pages of documents that ABSS furnished this week in response to a public records request by The Alamance News.

The newspaper had requested to examine and inspect all correspondence, including emails sent to and from the ABSS superintendent and all school board members regarding the “senior pranks” that took place at ABSS high schools late last month.

One parent even wrote to Catherine Truitt, the state superintendent of public instruction, filing what was described as a “formal grievance” against ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler

Emails that ABSS furnished this week revealed that one of the aggrieved parents even went so far as to email a “formal grievance” against ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler to North Carolina’s superintendent of public instruction, Catherine Truitt, on Friday June 2.


Also in this edition: Did superintendent exceed his authority, violate ABSS policy by invoking suspensions, ban on graduations for seniors: https://alamancenews.com/the-public-asks-did-superintendent-exceed-authority-violate-abss-policy-by-imposing-suspension-for-pranks/

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In the email to Truitt, an Eastern High School parent, whose name is redacted, claims her son – described as an honor student, captain of the lacrosse team, marching band leader, and recipient of a $25,000 merit scholarship – had been present during the “senior prank night” and threw “two strands of toilet paper” into a tree, for which the student claims to have been assured by principal Whitney Fliehman that there would be no repercussions as long as everything was cleaned up afterwards.

Fliehman is quoted as telling students who did the senior pranks the night of May 25, “You all are fine as long as there is no damage,” according to the email that the Eastern High School parent sent Truitt. “Your punishment will be missing the Senior picnic and Elementary School walk.”


Eastern’s principal Whitney Fliehman has subsequently been reassigned to the ABSS Early College at ACC:  https://alamancenews.com/eastern-high-school-early-college-principals-to-swap-positions/

Other principals reassigned following “senior pranks”: https://alamancenews.com/multiple-principals-moved-to-other-schools-in-wake-of-senior-pranks/


The parent asked Truitt, the state superintendent, to intervene in order to reverse the decision to bar her child (and other seniors) from participating in graduation exercises as a result of the more than $4,000 in damages caused by the pranks across the high schools – most notably, Williams High School, where cement was poured into eight toilets and six urinals.

Truitt immediately emailed the parent back on June 2, writing, “I do sympathize with this situation and wish that I could be of help. However, neither the State Board of Education [the parent had copied Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a non-voting member of the state board] nor the state superintendent has the authority to intervene in a local discipline decision.”

In a subsequent email to Truitt, the Eastern parent also alluded to having contacted private attorneys, but asked the state superintendent for clarification of parents’ rights, “rather than having to take legal action.”

ABSS officials told the newspaper this week that, in addition to students’ names, the names of their parents (and two grandparents) had been redacted in order to protect the privacy of the students involved, which they said follows a federal law that provides confidentiality for students’ educational records.

 

‘Willing to rape children of their achievement’
One grandfather – whose name was also redacted – accused the school board of being “willing to rape children of their 12 year public education achievement” by denying them the opportunity to “walk across the stage” at commencement, according to an email the school board received on June 4.

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The documents that ABSS furnished this week reveal that ABSS administrators and school board members received complaints from approximately two dozen parents, grandparents, and a couple of students, the majority of whom insisted that the “senior pranks” were the latest in a long-standing tradition and that the punishment was overly harsh. Most of the emails were sent between May 31 and June 6.

ABSS held graduation for all six high schools on June 9 and June 10.

“Every year, at every school, the Senior Prank happens. Right or wrong, this is something that a group of students participate in. Teachers and staff are aware and, in many cases, left doors and windows open for this event.

“Based on some of the things carried out this year at certain schools, I completely understand if you and other staff make it very clear that IF this happens in the future, there will be consequences, including but not limited to, not being able to walk at graduation.

“However, this year, this was not communicated to any of the students in advance and they ‘felt’ that they were simply participating in an event that occurs every year. – Eastern High School parent

Most of those who emailed Butler and school board members begged them to reconsider the decision to bar seniors from attending their high school graduation ceremonies.

“Every year, at every school, the Senior Prank happens,” a parent of an Eastern High School student wrote in a June 2 email to Butler, asking him to reconsider his decision not to allow the seniors involved to attend graduation. “Right or wrong, this is something that a group of students participate in. Teachers and staff are aware and, in many cases, left doors and windows open for this event.

“Based on some of the things carried out this year at certain schools, I completely understand if you and other staff make it very clear that IF this happens in the future, there will be consequences, including but not limited to, not being able to walk at graduation,” the Eastern parent wrote.

 

‘Felt they were participating in an event that occurs every year’
“However, this year, this was not communicated to any of the students in advance and they ‘felt’ that they were simply participating in an event that occurs every year,” the Eastern parent explained in the email to Butler. “I’m sure you can empathize with students at this age, where they want to be part of the ‘team’ and participate with their fellow classmates.

“I do not condone vandalism in any way,” the Eastern parent added. “And I expect that whatever was done should have been cleaned up by the students who did it. In the case at Eastern Alamance, that is exactly what a portion of the students did. They were ‘big’ enough to fess up and clean up what they had done.”

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“The Code of Conduct is a lengthy document and would in some cases require a legal mind to interpret. One thing I did understand, however, is that ‘fair’ punishment for my grandson‘s behavior is not being applied in his case. Surely, you must agree that there were different levels of misconduct.

– Grandmother of an Eastern High School senior who was suspended and banned from graduation for his participation in “senior pranks” at his high school

One grandmother, whose grandson was a senior at Eastern, emailed Butler and the school board on June 6, writing, “The Code of Conduct is a lengthy document and would in some cases require a legal mind to interpret. One thing I did understand, however, is that ‘fair’ punishment for my grandson‘s behavior is not being applied in his case. Surely, you must agree that there were different levels of misconduct.

“In this case, a school administrator told the student he could enter the school and also stated if he cleaned up what he messed up, there would be no further punishment,” the grandmother wrote. “He was following her lead. I am the mother of an educator. I understand how hard your job is. I’m just asking you to be fair and treat these pranks on a case by case basis.”

Many of the people who emailed the board and superintendent said that the high school principals and assistant principals had given the seniors permission, beforehand, to do the “senior pranks,” and as a result, those students weren’t trespassing the night of May 18 (at Southern High School) and May 25 (when the pranks occurred at the five other high schools).

 

‘How is this trespassing?’
The grandmother of the senior at Eastern High School wrote that her grandson’s participation in the “pranks” hadn’t resulted in any property damage, though her email noted that an

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“The administrator who was present at the school gave him permission to enter. How is this trespassing?”

– Grandmother of an Eastern High School senior who was suspended and banned from graduation for his participation in “senior pranks” at his high school

assistant principal had identified her grandson inside the school from video footage recorded the night of May 25. “The administrator who was present at the school gave him permission to enter. How is this trespassing?” the grandmother wrote.

An ABSS policy, which is incorporated in the larger code of student conduct, defines trespassing as “being on the campus of any school except the one to which the student is assigned during the school day without the knowledge and consent of the officials of that school.”

“Rule 4: Trespassing” within the ABSS student behavior policies states, “Students who loiter at any school after the close of the school day will be considered trespassers” and may be prosecuted if he/or she refuses to leave when instructed to do so.

A Southern High School senior who emailed the superintendent on Friday, June 2, admitted to having participated in the senior pranks (overnight on May 18 and May 19) but complained that other students who were also there had been given lighter punishments.

“[I] along with other seniors were cleared to walk at graduation up until yesterday morning,” the Southern High School senior wrote in the email to Butler on June 2. “It was also made aware to me that the others seniors who went inside the building but were not caught on camera [were] still given the privilege to walk at graduation.”

Two other students who were caught on camera that night were “only given a 10-day suspension,” according to the email from the Southern High School senior. “Here is my next question for you,” the Southern senior wrote. “If [I] and those two students completed the same actions why am I receiving more punishment [than] they are?”

Butler had announced after the more than $4,000 in damages from the “senior pranks that any students who “entered/trespassed our buildings will be suspended for the rest of the year” and wouldn’t be allowed to attend graduation. “Students who damaged and/or vandalized our exterior and/or interior buildings” also would be suspended for the remainder of the year, Butler wrote in a May 31 update to the school board.

The superintendent also told the board in his May 31 email that any underclassmen who fell into either category – having entered or vandalized any school building – would receive long-term suspensions the first nine weeks of the upcoming 2023-24 school year.

The documents that ABSS furnished in response to the newspaper’s public records requests included a handful of “formal grievances,” which asked the superintendent to reconsider his decision to bar seniors from graduation.

ABSS officials told the newspaper this week that a 10-day suspension is only “appealable” if a school employee or administrator is alleged to have violated school board policy and/or a state or federal law. Neither ABSS policy (Policy 4351) nor state law provides an appeal process for a short-term suspension, i.e., any suspension of up to 10 days, based on a document that ABSS furnished in response to the newspaper’s public records request.

A form letter that Butler has sent in response to complaints about the 10-day suspensions and/or exclusion from graduation notes, “Board policy 4300 specifically lists ‘exclusion from graduation ceremonies’ as an appropriate disciplinary response,” and students who have been suspended are prohibited from coming on to school property and from taking part in any school function.

The parent of a senior at Williams High School wrote in a June 1 email that her son did “no damage to the school in any way,” had never been in trouble, and had always been a model student.

 

Kudos from a retired teacher in Ohio
Meanwhile, in addition to numerous supportive messages that were posted on school board members’ social media accounts, ABSS officials received an email from a retired teacher in Ohio, applauding the hard-line response to the destruction caused by the senior pranks.

[News of the ABSS senior pranks was picked up by media outlets such as the New York Post in New York City, the Daily Mail in the UK, and News Nation, a cable news network in Chicago.]

“I am saddened that some ‘adrenaline fueled’ students felt the need to vandalize their schools,” retired teacher Linda Powers of Beechwood, Ohio, wrote in a June 4 email to Butler.

“I congratulate the superintendent for using the Code of Conduct to guide his decisions regarding these students,” Powers wrote. “In my experience most high schools have such a document but most families don’t read them. I’m sure your Code of Conduct spells out consequences for vandalism and trespassing and I hope the superintendent does not cave to the parents whose children were ‘just’ on the premises – observing but not participating in this vandalism.

“If the ABSS high schools (and other high schools) are doing a good job, they are preparing their students for life after high school,” Powers added. “Consequences for inappropriate or illegal acts will be much more serious, such as fines and jail time, in the ‘real’ world. Hopefully the punishment doled out to these students will keep them from getting into trouble in the future.”

All of the emails that ABSS furnished this week regarding the “senior pranks” were in response to a public records request by The Alamance News. As noted throughout many of the emails from ABSS officials, correspondence to and from their email addresses is subject to the North Carolina Public Records Law and is therefore subject to public inspection.


See photos of damage done across the county’s six high schools in earlier coverage: https://alamancenews.com/heres-what-2023-senior-pranks-looked-like-at-abss-high-schools/

To find other, earlier coverage since May 25, search “pranks”.

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