BROOKSVILLE — They will walk after all.
The 14 Hernando High School seniors who participated in a prank on the Bell Avenue campus over the Memorial Day weekend will get to participate in Monday night's graduation ceremony.
Superintendent Wayne Alexander on Friday reversed his decision to uphold a recommendation from Hernando High principal Ken Pritz to forbid the students from taking part.
Instead, the seniors each must complete 40 hours of community service that will include "beautification and custodial work" at the school, Alexander said. They are slated to work five eight-hour days next week, and Alexander said he will hold their diplomas until they have met that obligation.
The students made their way onto campus last weekend and rearranged tables and chairs in several locations and smeared grease on windows and doors.
Alexander said the argument that the students' family members would also be punished by missing out on graduation weighed heavily in his decision.
The seniors, who helped Alexander come up with the alternate punishment, have still gleaned a valuable lesson, he said.
"They've learned that when you go down that road of making poor choices, anything can happen, and your poor choices affect the people you love and care about," he said.
The district is still deciding how to punish a second group of four underclassmen who came onto campus after the seniors and sprayed graffiti on 15 buildings and a school van, Alexander said.
Dale Stokely's stepson, Jacob Geisler, was one of the seniors in the first group. Geisler and the other students went to the school district headquarters Friday to sign a contract with the terms of their punishment.
"When he came home, he just had a look of relief on his face," Stokely said. "He couldn't believe they'd changed their minds. I said, 'Jacob, you're lucky.' "
Stokely said he's glad the district chose not to take the experience away from his family.
"Punish them; just don't punish me and my wife," he said.
On Friday, before Alexander notified the St. Petersburg Times of his decision, Pritz spoke candidly about the tough place he found himself in at the end of his first year as a high school principal.
A veteran educator and administrator in the district who has served as a middle school administrator, Pritz said he has banned students from an eighth-grade dance, but never from graduation.
"It was one of the most difficult decisions of my career," Pritz said.
"These are all kids who are in many ways model students on campus, students who made a mistake, and I had to levy discipline," he said. "What those students did didn't deface the campus, but it did cost labor and time to clean it up."
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.