School Prank Goes Wrong

About 15 seniors suspended, may miss graduation, face charges

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UPDATE:

Late Tuesday, Payson High School Principal Ray Sandoval decided to allow some of the students who had participated in the "senior prank" involving vandalism on campus to participate in the graduation ceremonies.

Many of the students involved only Super Glued pennies to doors and sidewalks and painted slogans in soluble paint on windows. Those students will face various penalties, but will be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies.

However, students who participated in removing the valve stems from the buses and other actions that caused damage will serve suspensions that will preclude walking with the other graduates. Many may also face criminal charges.

Superintendent Casey O'Brien issued the following statement late Tuesday afternoon.

"The District does not condone any of the "pranks" that were committed by Payson High School students. This is not a new policy. Pranks have never been condoned by the Payson High School administration, or the District. Having said this, it is accurate to say that there was a range in severity with respect to the incidents of misconduct. This is reflected in the number and degree of criminal charges and therefore, it is appropriate for the high school administration to consider a range of school consequences commensurate with the violation of school and district rules and policies. All students who have been found to have violated these rules and policies will face consequences. I support however, Mr. Sandoval's decision to impose a range of consequences based on the degree of misconduct. His decision to allow some students to participate in the graduation ceremony is founded on findings from a thorough investigation and a fair and consistent application of student discipline policies."

The story published in our print version appears below:

A senior prank that veered into vandalism on Sunday ended with several students in jail, about 15 students suspended and a cloud over graduation.

Somewhere between 15 and 30 students in the middle of the night painted windows, glued pennies to the walkways and doors, painted numbers onto the track surface, broke a light pole -- and used a tool to remove the valve stems from the district's entire fleet of buses.

All the students who have been identified have reportedly been suspended for the rest of the school year and have been told they cannot participate in graduation. Students are pressing for a reconsideration of that decision.

In addition, police have arrested nine students out of about 15 they have questioned, according to Payson Police Chief Don Engler. Six students have been charged as adults and three as juveniles. "Several" face possible felony charges of aggravated criminal damage, because the vandalism took place at a school.

The participants include many of the school's top students, most of them college bound and many with scholarships that they might lose as a result.

The bulk of the students turned themselves in, after police caught one girl returning to her car. The police investigation is ongoing and remains on a separate track from the school's disciplinary actions.

Many of the students have appealed to the administration to let them walk in the graduation ceremonies and students who were not involved in the prank have expressed strong support.

Administration officials would not confirm or deny whether the students will be barred from graduation ceremonies.

Students can apparently still take their finals at a special group examination session after the year ends -- and can still receive homework assignments so they don't flunk their classes, students said.

School employees confirmed an incident had occurred, but referred all on-the-record comments to District Superintendent Casey O'Brien, who said he could not comment on any disciplinary action taken by the district.

"I can't confirm consequences that may or may not have been imposed by the school. That reflects on individual students and it is not something that the superintendent or anyone else has the right to breech."

Chief Engler said police will release details of the charges and sequence of events when the investigation is complete.

The students who spoke to the Roundup said they felt they'd made a bad decision and that the incident had spun out of control, but all said their main concern now was participating in the graduation ceremonies.

"We confessed. We made a mistake. We just want them to reasonably punish us," said one 18-year-old girl who said all she did was glue pennies to the sidewalk and had no idea some students were deflating the bus tires.

"I will pick up trash, make monthly payments, do community service -- anything," said another girl who participated. "I just want to walk at graduation."

Another girl with the penny-gluing group, said she's been told she will face criminal charges because she's 18. "We're being charged for things we didn't commit. We should be charged with the things we did."

Students say the prank started out with a plan to Super Glue a four-foot-tall "08" made of pennies in front of the auditorium.

Reportedly, word of the plan spread like a crown fire through text messaging. As a result, some 30 students reportedly assembled in Green Valley Park, caravanned over to the high school in the middle of the night, then fanned out over campus.

About half of the students painted "class of 08" on windows, glued pennies to windows doors and walkways.

Other students headed over to where the buses were parked and removed the valve stems, deflating the tires. Reportedly, they used a tool to remove the valve stems. District employees spent several hours replacing the valve stems and reinflating the tires, but reportedly had the buses rolling by morning.

Another group of students painted "Class of 08" on the artificial surface of the track and some students reportedly broke a light pole.

The plan unraveled when someone living near the high school called police to report suspicious activity, according to students.

Police responded and noticed one student's car still parked across the street from the school. They waited by the car and then stopped the driver, who returned to campus to pick up her car. She is reportedly an honors student and a star athlete. Police threatened to charge her with several felonies if she was the only one in custody, but promised they would go easy on her and her friends if other students came forward, said students.

She called several friends, who turned themselves in so she wouldn't suffer the consequences alone, said the students.

The police pressured the students who surrendered to call in more friends, until perhaps 15 students were in custody.

One girl said she got the same penalty as the students who vandalized the buses, even though all she did was answer a phone call from a friend who asked her to bring a jar of pennies to the campus. The police were already on scene when she arrived and they stopped her, questioned her and included her in the group of students facing charges.

"All of us have good grades. We worked our butts off all those years -- and now we don't get to graduate," said one honor student.

"We were just going to do the pennies -- just a few of us. And we told a few people and then all of a sudden at Green Valley (Park), like 30 people show up. Next thing we knew we were in the trucks heading to school -- and it just all got completely out of control."

Students held a meeting yesterday afternoon to discuss the situation.

Early calls for a boycott of the graduation ceremonies by students who had not participated in the incident were dampened when several students reported rumors the administration might back off from the initial suggestion that none of the students who participated would be allowed to participate in graduation.

The students interviewed Monday said their parents have mostly been critical about their decision to participate in the prank, but also critical of the administration's reaction.

"My mom said I should be punished, but (the school) went overboard."

"We don't want to bash the school We really care about it -- that's why we're fighting to be in the graduation ceremony."

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