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Group protests 'prank' reaction at Jefferson High School

April 07, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.VA. - Local elected officials and others attended a dedication Sunday at Jefferson High School to celebrate a $15.3 million renovation of the school, but some parents and students had other things on their minds.

About 30 students and parents staged a protest at the school, taking exception to the way school officials have reacted to a break-in at the school on March 30 that allegedly involved 15 students.

Group members said they are upset because they have heard felony charges like grand larceny might be filed against the students.

The protesters said that type of punishment is too severe and it could hurt the futures of the kids.

"These are kids that have no records and very bright futures," said Curt Compton, a parent of one of the students involved.

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The protesters, who gathered in front of the high school along Flowing Springs Road, held signs that read "Education not Prosecution" and "Let Our Seniors Graduate," among other messages.

After entering school about 11 p.m. on the night of March 30, the students dragged 600 desks into hallways, hid 31 telephones and wrote inappropriate comments in Spanish on chalkboards, school officials said.

Access was gained to the school through a hatch on the school's roof, school officials said.

The incident was part of a senior prank, but the incident went too far, Assistant Principal Tim Sites said last week.

The 15 students have received 10-day suspensions and it's possible some could be expelled from school for the rest of the year, school officials said.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department also is investigating the incident.

Music blared out of the back of a car as protesters waved their signs to motorists along Flowing Springs Road Sunday afternoon. Some motorists honked their horns and the crowd cheered.

Compton said some parents were upset with their children over the break-in and feel the students made a mistake, but said it was basically a harmless incident.

Tim Jennings, another parent of one of the students involved, tried to explain how the students did not mean anything harmful by the break-in.

Jennings said the students were planning to remove the desks from the school and take them to the football field behind the school and arrange them in the shape of the year 2008.

But the students scratched that plan after they heard rain might be in the forecast, Jennings said.

"They didn't want the desks to be damaged," Jennings said.

One student accidentally damaged a shelf and left an apology note and money to fix it, Jennings said.

Jennings' wife, Cathy, said she was not upset about the break-in, but said students have been told about dealing with consequences of their actions.

Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober, who attended the open house ceremony, talked with the protesters outside the school.

Boober did not go into details about his department's investigation, but told parents to allow the police to do their work.

"Allow us to work through the mechanism of this. Nobody's going to go behind bars. That's not our intent," Boober said.

Boober told parents that police have to carefully examine incidents in schools, especially in light of more violent times, and he called attention to images of the students that were caught on videotape.

Some of the students used masks and hoods in an attempt to disguise themselves, school officials said.

"I tell you, those pictures are pretty awesome," Boober told parents.

Any charges that might be brought against the students would be up to the Jefferson County Board of Education, Jefferson High School Principal Howard Guth said Sunday.

Pete Dougherty, the president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, who also attended the open house ceremony, said he has concerns about the incident, including that all the school's property has not been recovered.

School officials said the students hid the 31 telephones in ceilings and last week school officials said some of the phones had not been found.

"There's no question a breaking and entering occurred," said Dougherty, a former county magistrate.

Dougherty said he had not heard about the student who left the apology note or the concerns the students had about rain damaging desks.

But Dougherty remained firm about his concerns and said he would not be amused by anyone breaking into his home and putting his furniture outside.

The board of education will base its actions on the findings of the sheriff's department and could make a decision this week about possible charges against the students, Dougherty said.

School officials believe two other students at Shepherd University also were involved in the break-in.

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