Banned from graduation: Did the punishment fit the crime?

Skyline senior's painted car (courtesy photo)

It seemed like a fun idea at the time: Painting their cars like floats in a parade and cruising down the off-limits service road that runs around Oakland’s Skyline High School campus at lunchtime.

But about 11 of the students that took part in Friday’s senior prank — those who were caught — learned yesterday they would be suspended and banned from walking the stage at tomorrow night’s commencement at the Paramount, said Raeshon Culberson, whose daughter Jasmine was suspended (and, incidentally, who used to teach at Skyline).

They’ll be allowed inside the theater, Culberson said, but not on stage — and not dressed in a cap and gown.

Troy Flint, a spokesman for the Oakland school district, said the prank posed a safety threat. He said a number of teachers reported that cars were doing donuts and other tricks near students and staff, and that the drivers refused to stop, even when staff approached the cars. They also reported that some bystanders were almost hit, he said.

“I don’t think anyone at the school would classify this as a parade (other than those involved),” he said.

Culberson said the kids made a mistake and should face consequences. But, she said, the decision was too harsh. “I just want the punishment to fit the crime,” she said. 

 “My daughter is going to go onto college, but for kids who aren’t going to college, this is sort of their last hurrah,” she said.

Culberson said another group of pranksters — who, she said, got a key from a school employee and spread flour and water all over the floor of two buildings  — will be allowed to walk the stage.

Flint confirmed the story and said that the employee in question is being disciplined. He said the pranks were treated differently because one posed a safety threat and the other involved a staff member.

“Because an adult was complicit in the prank, it didn’t seem appropriate for the students to take the burden of the punishment,” he said.

What do you think? Should the school administration reverse its decision and let the kids make it up in some other way? How?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sue

    Wow! It certainly doesn’t seem right to include one group of pranksters, the flour and water bunch, and exclude another. I would hope that the service-road-parade group would get the same punishment as their peers.

  • Jean Parker (OUSD Parent)

    If it’s true, the punishment certainly does not fit the crime. Based on your report, the students didn’t vandalize any property or hurt any person. They were just celebrating the end of high school in an off-limit area. Sounds like a minor infraction. They should be able to walk the stage at graduation.

  • Katy Murphy

    FYI, I just added some information from Troy Flint, including additional information about the incident. He confirmed that no one was hurt, but said someone could have been:

    Troy Flint, a spokesman for the Oakland school district, said the prank posed a safety threat. He said a number of teachers reported that cars were doing donuts and other tricks near students and staff, and that the drivers refused to stop, even when staff approached the cars. They also reported that some bystanders were almost hit, he said.

    “I don’t think anyone at the school would classify this as a parade (other than those involved),” he said.

  • Nextset

    I don’t think we need to do a lot of public re-examination of a decision by the school administration. We hire these people to run the school for us and the kiddies had better learn that they don’t get to do end runs around all the authority figures they serve under throughout their lives.

    The only possible question here that is proper is whether the proposed action of the school administration is so far out of line than no reasonable administrator could ever do it. In other words, is this a complete abuse of discretion.

    I don’t think it is an abuse of discretion. It is an excercise of discretion. And a fine lesson for the kiddies – ALL of them – marching and not marching, to learn on the way out of the door.

    It doesn’t matter if I would personally have made a different decision. I would not insult the administration by expressing my own possible decision. I don’t do their job and I don’t have to live with what they live with. It is their profession to discipline these kids and I would never interfere with and protect the students against the faculty or administration except in cases of clear abuse.

    Good Luck to all.

  • Sue

    THe new information (since my initial comment) does change my view somewhat.

    Mostly, I’m really *really* relieved that my Skyline senior went home after the graduation rehearsal today. He’s a sweet kid, but because of his autism, his judgment isn’t what most 17-18-y-o’s are capable of, and he’s easily led astray.

    Last year he repeated the “F”-word after some of his friends were saying “F- coach “. Unfortunately, my son walked into the gym teacher’s office, so he got into trouble.

    If any of his friends had invited him to ride in the “parade”, he would have joined them. If he were to miss his graduation, he’d be completely devastated, and so would I.

  • Nextset

    Sue: You can’t go through life being “devastated” so often. If it happens, it happens. You do your best and that’s all you can do. Sometimes kids need to learn by pain.

    I hear you about having a special needs kid with biologically related judgement problems. I have seen this in the courts and where it doesn’t get into the courts by luck or planning or fast phone calls. I have seen robberies reduced to disturbing the peace and I have seen people get life who never had a speeding ticket previously.

    There are terrible consequences awaiting an 18 year old who has a bad day or a bad moment. Best chance of averting that is planning, rehersal, acting out what if’s, and lots of dinner table talk backed up with field trips.

    Most parents just don’t bother, thinking it’ll probably never happen to them. If you know your kid is vulnerable you have a better chance to do realistic preparation for all the hazards life will throw at a young man. Parents who think their kids is just normal are more resistant to coaching them.

    I have had sobbing parents tell me how they lost their bi-polar children. That is sad. They could see it all slipping away into madness and not stop it. He/She didn’t want to see the doctor or take the pills. You can’t make them. California says you have a right to be crazy. They know their rights.

  • Skyline teacher

    I don’t teach 12th graders and thus have no horses in this race. But this was the most dangerous thing I’ve ever seen someone in a vehicle do. I watched these students screech their smoking tires around corners; one student was very, very close to getting hit (no more than a few yards away). This could have easily ended in tragedy; if the incident had occurred on a public street and a pedestrian were hit, the charge would be vehicular homicide. Thank goodness no one was hurt.

    This type of “prank” can’t be tolerated on our campus. One reason that the driving age is 17 rather than 13 is that a car is a potentially dangerous tool that requires maturity to operate. To drive a car recklessly is to demonstrate a disregard for the lives of the people around you. If that doesn’t deserve a consequence, I’m not sure what does. These students should be happy that they aren’t facing charges, and hopefully they understand that similarly reckless actions in the future could have far greater consequences than not walking across the stage to get their diplomas.

  • Paperback Writer

    I am in agreement with “Skyline Teacher”, as I heard from my child at dinnertime yesterday about this, well, “incident” (which downplays the seriousness of this) and the doughnuts these “kiddies” were doing. The parent on an earlier post who was excusing this is sadly misguided. Kid not going to college so it’s ok, it’s their “last hurrah”? That is sad and just underscores the low expectations present in some communities. I am dismayed that the so-called (overpaid and overstaffed) administrators let this go by without consequences. And spreading flour and water on the floors? Were they at least required to clean it all up? Janitorial staffing is meager enough, without something like this happening. It shows an utter disregard for the community.

  • Hot R

    “Hope I die before I get old”

    The Who, My Generation

    What happened to all you old fuddy-duddies? It’s more dangerous for pedestrians when Skyline lets out every day and the cars come roaring down the hill. Oohhh – flour in the hallway…

    Did anyone get hurt? Did anyone “slip” on the flour? Answer NO. Let the kids walk. This is not the end of society as we know it. Nor is it the slippery slope leading to our demise. Now the oil spill on the other hand…

  • Skyline Staffer

    Wow, I guess I missed out on a bunch of “fun” on Friday. Whom ever had the hair-brained idea of “parading” their cars through the service road was not thinking. That service road is barely big enough to fit two Peterman buses side-by-side, let alone a bunch of cars with eager teens driving them. To do it at lunch is a hundred-times more dangerous, there are general ed students out and about alongside special ed students. The general ed students have a quicker reflex than their counterparts due to a quicker processing time in the brain. If any student, general ed or special ed had been injured, there definitely would’ve been hell to pay.

    As for the flour and water in the halls, I’m not sure when that happened but I know some sr’s decided to pour oil all over the hallway floor in the 20 building on Monday morning, that is significantly more dangerous than flour and water. I’m not against senior pranks UNLESS they pose a threat to another human being; whether it be a slip and fall or wreckless driving. Now putting undergarments in trees and countless numbers of Post-Its on classroom windows reading “2010” is just fine with me…

  • Pancho

    School is a place for learning. If students want to “celebrate” let it be on their time, on their property, at their own risk. Schools in OUSD are severely under resourced. I don’t see how babysitting “celebrations,” is within the realm of responsibility, or even a good use of time of ANY staff member in an under resourced school. Whatever happened to expecting the best from students? Why are we so eager to excuse poor judgment?