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Hernando High seniors who pulled prank learn fate today

BROOKSVILLE — As of Thursday, 14 Hernando High School seniors involved in what they considered a prank were to be denied an experience that all high school students look forward to.

But superintendent Wayne Alexander had one more night to sleep on it.

The students have appealed a decision to deny them the privilege of participating in Monday night's graduation ceremony. Alexander said Thursday afternoon that he will decide today whether to reverse that call.

The students made their way onto the campus over the Memorial Day weekend, rearranged desks and chairs, and coated windows and door handles with grease. Surveillance cameras caught much of the mischief, and at least some of the students later confessed.

Hernando High principal Ken Pritz made the recommendation, and Alexander initially upheld it.

"He thought that was the appropriate consequence for their actions," Alexander said.

The students and their parents have disagreed, he said.

"Several (parents) have expressed concerns about families being punished for decisions their children have made, and there's legitimacy to that," he said.

Several of the students are top members of the senior class, and some were scheduled to speak at graduation, Alexander said.

Now they might have to watch from the stands.

The students have argued that their actions were relatively harmless, especially compared with those of a second, smaller group of students who came onto campus later that night and sprayed graffiti on 15 buildings and a school van.

The district is still investigating that incident, but the second group doesn't appear to include any seniors, Alexander said.

Consequences for those students will be "severe," Alexander said. He hasn't ruled out pressing criminal charges.

When asked about the apparent difference in the severity of the two groups' actions, Alexander replied, "It's all inappropriate. Kids will punished for their choices."

At first, students in both groups were listed as suspects in the same Brooksville police report, though school officials eventually told police Tuesday that the investigation of both incidents would be handled internally.

The St. Petersburg Times is not publishing the names in the police report because the students have not been charged with a crime, and it is not clear whether every student in the report was involved.

Efforts to reach some of the students on the list and their families were unsuccessful Thursday. Pritz did not return a message left with his secretary.

Police could reopen the criminal investigation if the district does want to press charges, but that would probably be fraught with problems, police Chief George Turner said. The school district's inquiry probably tainted witnesses, which would stand in the way of a proper police investigation, Turner said.

"I'm not sure that would be in anyone's interest," he said.

The cost of the graffiti hasn't been tallied, but there will have to be at least some repainting, in addition to the labor put into pressure-washing the walls, Alexander said.

The students in the first group thought their prank would be viewed as just that, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association. Vitalo knows some of the students personally.

"They're very good kids, and they thought this was something to do to follow tradition," Vitalo said. "These are not the type of kids to deface property."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando High seniors who pulled prank learn fate today 05/28/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 28, 2009 7:44pm]

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