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Pranksters banned from graduation

Central High students who egged windows, glued door locks and spray-painted campus walls won't be allowed to participate in commencement.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- Eight Central High School seniors, including the class president, will not be allowed to participate in graduation later this month after a senior prank got out of hand last weekend.

The students will still get diplomas and be allowed to attend the baccalaureate service. But they will not be a part of Central's May 30 commencement.

It's a decision that has outraged parents of some of the punished kids to the point of threatening legal action and protests.

Pranksters climbed the fence at Central about midnight Sunday and trashed the campus. They egged windows, spread tuna fish across the grounds, glued door locks and littered things with toilet paper. Some of them also spray-painted the campus' block-wall buildings with vulgar comments directed at school administrators and staff.

Central principal Dennis McGeehan said the damage amounted to nearly $1,000. When he mentioned to senior class officers that cleanup costs might mean less money for events such as the senior breakfast and senior awards night, students began coming forward.

Among them were Melissa Price, the senior class president who was scheduled to make a speech graduation night, Brooke Bonno and Gina Daly.

The three girls admitted to toilet-papering and some of the lesser mischief, according to their mothers. But they said two boys were responsible for the spray-painting. All three will miss graduation.

The mothers said McGeehan and school resource officer Ricardo Ruiz promised the girls they would not get in trouble if they told who had done the spray-painting. So they fessed up.

The mothers also said that the boys who were implicated took sole responsibility for the spray-painting.

But McGeehan sees things differently.

He said he promised only to take the girls' cooperation into consideration when determining punishments and that they may not be as blameless as they claim. One boy claimed to have done part of the spray-painting, and he was suspended from school.

But one boy indicated that girls may have helped with the spray-painting, too.

Such discrepancies made it difficult to differentiate the unabashed truth, McGeehan said. So he applied a standard that is used in the criminal justice system -- all parties must share equal responsibility for the crime.

"I think it's a valuable lesson for everybody to learn," McGeehan said.

Nevertheless, the parents are talking to lawyers about legal options. They may even bring a protest Monday to the School Board building in Brooksville.

They say their daughters have never been in trouble before and were so remorseful they helped clean up the mess.

"Let's let the punishment fit the crime," said parent Renee Bonno. "These are good kids from good families. They are not street kids. Let's let everyone sit back and think about the kind of things we did as a kid."

The Sheriff's Office is still investigating the incident. No charges have been filed. The school would not release the names of the students being punished.

Central is not alone in dealing firmly with senior pranks gone too far. Land O'Lakes High School in Pasco County is keeping 13 seniors out of graduation for vandalism that included spray-painting obscenities.

Margaret Daly, Gina's mother, said the girls are devastated.

"Everything that went on at the school has been repaired," Daly said. "The damage they are doing to these kids is irreparable."

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