2017-06-14 / Front Page

Parents and students ask Copiague School Board to rescind decision following senior prank

Students involved barred from graduation ceremonies

Crowd at Copiague School Board meeting last night.Crowd at Copiague School Board meeting last night.By Copiague School Board President Brian Sales acknowledges a resident at meeting.Copiague School Board President Brian Sales acknowledges a resident at meeting.Attorney for parents and students address school board last night.Attorney for parents and students address school board last night.Kathy Geraghty

A group of Copiague High School Seniors stood out in the rain across from Copiague Middle School last night, asking the school board to reverse its decision barring them from graduation ceremonies. Inside, the board was meeting and heard impassioned pleas from parents, residents and an attorney representing some of the seniors, all who also asked the board to reconsider.

The graduation ceremonies are scheduled for Thursday, June 22. While the board went into executive session following the meeting, the district reported this morning that it was upholding its position.

The issue surrounds a “senior prank” incident that occurred June 9. Some students climbed through a two-story window at the high school at around 2 a.m., vandalizing interior rooms, compromising personal items and smashing an expensive projector, according to school board president Brian Sales, who told the approximately 100 residents at the meeting that the board would listen but not comment on the residents’ statements. He also urged the residents to maintain the students’ privacy by not mentioning their names during the meeting, which was being taped by the media.

The district declined to press criminal charges against the students. Instead it decided to bar the students involved in the incident from graduation ceremonies. Sales read a statement at the beginning of the meeting telling the students who were responsible, that they “made a terrible choice that has resulted in a bad outcome for everyone—them, their parents, their families, friends and the school district. “However, we don’t want you to suffer an irreparable blemish with an arrest and what that would cause,” he said.

It is estimated that 80 students got together at the high school June 9, many intending only to fill the stairwell with balloons and ribbons, something that has been done in the past. At some point, however, a few students decided to go further and vandalized a Vice Principal's office.

That set off the security system and police arrived, notifying school officials of the break in. The district later identified the students involved from a surveillance tape.

Sales pointed out to parents at the meeting that the students had been clearly cautioned about conducting senior pranks in a letter that outlined the consequences, including being barred from graduation ceremonies.  

Most of the parents who attended said punishment did not fit the crime and that many were being held accountable for what only a few had done. Most went to the school only to express “school spirit,” said one student, “not damage the school they love.”

“This is a draconian punishment,” said C. Lara Bakshi, an attorney with the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates of Great Neck, a civil rights law group for students and their parent. “One incident of poor conduct does not fairly represent four years of their lives; we voted this board in and we can vote them out,” she said, getting a round of applause from those in attendance.

“If our entire class isn’t there, it just won’t be the same,” said a student who is graduating this week and also asked the board to reconsider.

“My granddaughter looked forward to graduating,” said one resident. “All she did was put balloons there like they do every year; now you are saying she can’t go to graduation? This is a ridiculous punishment.”

 

Bakshi said the district did not appropriately notify students and their parents about the consequences of being involved in a senior prank and failed to provide the students with due process under the law. 

“I respectfully ask this board to call an emergency meeting so we can discuss this incident,” she told the board.

Following the meeting, the board went into executive session but as of this morning maintained its original decision. Outside, the students continued to wave their signs and ask the board to reconsider its decision. “Let us walk,” they chanted.

 

 

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