WILKES COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF) –High school seniors in one CSRA town overcame a scare Tuesday after school officials revoked their right to walk across the stage on graduation day. An act that is considered tradition in the county put their special day in jeopardy.
“2,4,6,8 we will graduate!”
Chants rang out within steps of the Wilkes County Board of Education.
“When do we want to graduate? Friday!”
Seniors from Washington – Wilkes Comprehensive High School and their parents took the day trying to convince administrators to let them walk across the stage on graduation day after following tradition cost them something they’ve waited on for 12 years.
Senior Brandon Chapman explained what the prank consisted of to NewsChannel 6.
“Flip the desks and put Saran Wrap on the desks and maybe switch out the teacher’s classrooms.,” he said of a conversation he had about the prank with a faculty member before it took place.
Chapman was joined by several other students impacted along with Chanel Wingfield, Senior Class President.
“I went to Walmart. I bought balloons, cups, Saran Wrap, sticky notes. I spent like $25,” she said.
Those were just a few of the supplies for the senior prank that students told us happens every year.
Nydia Person, another member of the senior class at the Board of Education weighed in too.
“We supposedly still did $150 in damages,” she said. “So, they said every student had to pay a $2 fee, which we did.”
But Chapman added their money was not enough and he does not understand why he and more than 30 of his classmates were punished.
“In 2008, the old school they brought pigs, chickens with goats, put dead fish in the ceiling. They demolished the school and kids still had to go there. In the new school, in 2016 they did the exact same prank we did to a T with like two different variations and all of them got to walk,” he recalled.
The students and parents added that they believe the punishment was racially motivated because all of the students were African American. Students added in the past, pranks were done by whites and blacks with a less harsh reprimand.
Superintendent Rosemary Caddell said the issue was students gaining access to the building after hours in a move she said was somewhat “breaking and entering.”
The students were not alone. Parents and even local councilmen joined in support as the superintendent worked to get to the bottom of the issue, one students said should have been non-existent because they received approval and the key from the Assistant Principal.
“I said can we get the key? She said no, she will not give us the key, but she said she will not ask where the key came from,” Chapman told us.
Arklevia Germany is the mother of a member of the senior class. She said she was not happy when she learned her daughter could not walk on graduation, which is scheduled for Friday, May 24.
“It’s a different thing if they bust windows or spayed the walls, or just brought an animal and had children up there,” she said. “These kids just threw down stuff, little sticky notes.”
District 1 Councilman Maceo Mahoney supported the group, adding that school administrators were too harsh.
“Why you want to hold this class accountable and responsible when there was nothing torn up? If you look at what they did, it’s like they nicely laid the tables and chairs down,” he said.
We spoke with Superintendent Caddell after we spoke with students and their parents. She said all students involved and previously punished will be allowed to participate in graduation, but they must complete community service. She said the decision was based on student testimony and reconsidering their intent.