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Hernando High vandals face school discipline

BROOKSVILLE — At least 18 students suspected of vandalizing Hernando High School late Monday face disciplinary action from school officials.

But the students, mostly 18-year-old seniors, likely won't face criminal charges because superintendent Wayne Alexander asked the Brooksville Police Department to stand down.

School district officials told Chief George Turner on Tuesday that the district would handle what Alexander said could have been intended, at least by some of the students, as a senior prank.

Hernando High principal Ken Pritz and the school's resource officer are conducting their own inquiry and Pritz will suggest how to discipline guilty students, Alexander said.

"I'm confident in their ability to do the investigation," he said.

Alexander signed a waiver of prosecution at about 11 a.m., a few hours after Hernando High officials discovered the damage. The waiver is an official notice to the Police Department that the school district does not want to press charges.

Students made their way onto the Bell Avenue campus and sprayed graffiti on 15 buildings throughout the school's campus and on a district-owned minivan, according to a police report. Police counted 54 distinct pieces of graffiti, according to the report.

Photos taken by investigators show that much of the graffiti was laced with profanity and included references to the class of 2009.

Students also smeared grease on doorknobs and apparently used a key to access a portable classroom and the school's business building. Desks and chairs were rearranged, but nothing was broken and no school property has turned up missing, Pritz said.

Surveillance cameras caught much of the activity and helped officials to identify the students, Pritz and Turner said.

Pritz said it appears that two groups of students came onto the campus. One group is responsible for the more benign activity such as the rearranged chairs and desks, he said. The other group is responsible for most or all of the graffiti, he said.

The St. Petersburg Times is not naming the students because some are minors and no charges have been filed. But a couple of the names are at the top of the school's senior class.

When asked whether one of the sanctions against students could include a ban from graduation ceremonies, Alexander said, "I try not to think ahead like that or let reporters put words into my mouth."

At least initially on Tuesday, the incident seemed to school officials like a case for the police. Pritz, who said he was on campus by 6:30 a.m., called authorities and the department began an investigation into what it deemed to be a case of burglary and criminal mischief.

Three investigators had been at the school for about four hours when Alexander signed the waiver, Turner said.

The chief said he confirmed with the State Attorney's Office that the superintendent has the power to sign the waiver on behalf of the school district.

At that point, "our hands are tied," Turner said.

Technically, they aren't, said Don Barbee, supervisor of the State Attorney's Office in Hernando.

"The waiver is completely nonbinding on the Police Department or the State Attorney's Office," Barbee said.

In considering whether to pursue a case where the victim waives prosecution, the issue typically is a matter of resources, he said. "How much effort do you give when the victim doesn't cooperate?" Barbee said.

Turner said that is exactly his point.

Still, Barbee said he tends to prosecute cases that result in significant damage to public property.

"Whatever method is necessary, we need to get restitution to the taxpayers of Hernando County," he said.

It was unclear Tuesday how much the incident would cost the district.

It took nine workers five hours Tuesday to scour off most of the graffiti with pressure washers, a maintenance supervisor said. The minivan will likely need at least a partial paint job.

The graffiti didn't disappear quick enough for at least one parent.

Wayne Wilson said his daughter, a fifth-grader at Brooksville Elementary, came home Tuesday afternoon and reported she saw several words of profanity on the way into the Hernando High auditorium that morning for the fifth-grade class's graduation ceremony.

"I wasn't too pleased," Wilson said. "Nobody wants their child to be subjected to language like that."

Times staff writer John Frank contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando High vandals face school discipline 05/26/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 8:05pm]

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