The President of the Fort Madison School Board is weighing in on the "senior prank" at the high school over the weekend. He said he expected better from the students involved.
Board President Tim Wondra said in a prepared statement that the current senior class at FMHS has done so many great things, which is why he's truly disappointed that the default setting for the group was to break the law.
A group of about 20 students participated in a “senior prank” at the high school late Sunday night. The “prank” was discovered by school employees early Monday morning.
The Fort Madison Police Department said in a news release Tuesday that the students either rigged a lock or propped open a door on Friday, May 18 so they could gain access to the building.
The students involved were identified through video surveillance. The FMPD said while on school property, the students:
- Covered the front and interior of the school in toilet paper.
- Covered trees in toilet paper.
- “Glued” posters to the inside of the front doors with Vaseline.
- “Strewn” water balloons about the front foyer.
- Tied shut the front doors from the inside with tow rope.
- Wrote obscenities on posters in the school.
- Applied Vaseline to nearly every door handle or push bar in the building as well as windows, doors, walls, and toilet seats.
- Poured Red Bull on the basketball court and covered it in toilet paper to allow it to dry on the court. (FMPD said it appears there was no permanent damage to the court)
- Burned toilet paper rolls and set off a smoke bomb outside the school.
The district has not commented on the official punishments for the students. But several students who said they participated in the prank described their punishments during Monday night's school board meeting.
They said the group was suspended for the rest of the school year and banned from graduation on June 2. They asked the board to reverse the ban, offering to set up graduation and clean up afterwards or clean the school during the summer in exchange for being able to participate in graduation.
Wondra said the district has, in the past, offered a solution like that to students who get in trouble, only to see them show up just one or two times to do the community service they promised they would do. He questioned whether the board wanted to set a precedent for future senior classes.
The district told Tri States Public Radio that any appeals filed by students would be heard by Superintendent Erin Slater in private sessions. If a further appeal is needed, it would be heard by the Fort Madison School Board at its next regular board meeting in mid-June, several weeks after graduation.
The students could also be charged criminally, though Lee County Attorney Ross Braden told TSPR this week that he is working on a solution that holds the students accountable without creating a criminal record for them.
Wondra's entire statement is below. It has not been edited.
Let me first say thank you to all for attending the School Board meeting last night and respectfully waiting until the end to address the Board.
The Board is faced with many complex and diverse decisions. Board policy and the student handbook states that discipline of the students is handled by the building administration and Superintendent. The Board was not involved in deciding the discipline of the students, we do not have all the details of the incident. This is so, if there is an appeal process of the administration's decision the Board has to be the judge and jury and in an attempt to be neutral to give both sides equal opportunity to present their case. That being said, we have to trust what our administrators thought was an appropriate level of punishment since they have all the information. Given the 2 pieces of information we do know 1) the students were warned ahead of time that if they did a "senior prank" they would not be able to walk at the commencement ceremonies and 2) they gained access to a locked building at 11pm on a Sunday night and vandalized the inside of the building. Accessing any locked building without permission is illegal. The legal definition of vandalism "Deliberate defacing or destruction of property; ignorant defacing of anything beautiful or treasured, such as a work of art, architecture, or a valued building. Ignorance or malice is usually inferred."
We have heard many suggestions about letting the students walk and then making them clean tables, school ground, thing like that over the summer. Only problem with that is when it has been tried in the past the kids show up for 1 or 2 days then never come back and complete it. The school has no recourse. Also, if the students are allowed to walk that sets a precedence for the next time. The next class will think, well last year the kids broke inside the building and did some vandalism and got away with just a slap on the wrist. We will just do the same thing only bigger and then go to the School Board and say we are sorry, now let us walk at the graduation ceremony please. Why do Senior pranks have to be destructive and involve vandalism? Why not choose to do something positive. I saw a picture of a class that, with the permission and assistance from the administration, used empty cups to write out a message of hope and encouragement for the rest of the student body on the gym floor. How about raise funds and with the help of administration have a pizza and ice cream lunch for the rest of the student body. I expected more from our students, especially this Senior class that has done many great things for FMHS. I am truly disappointed that the default setting for this group was to break the law. If this same exact thing happened at your business or your home, would you be OK with just laughing it off as a "Senior Prank?" The students knew what they were doing was wrong. If there is an appeals process then it will have to follow proper policy timeline. We hear your concerns and will take them under advisement as this issue moves forward.
Dr. Tim Wondra D.C.
FMCSD School Board President