Payette High School Superintendent Robin Gilbert on Tuesday afternoon confirmed that three seniors will not be walking with their classmates on Thursday evening during the 2021 commencement ceremony.
Information was sought by the newspaper after receiving multiple tips that something had gone wrong during senior pranks last week, and now some students were paying the ultimate price of not getting to participate in the final moments of their senior year.
When it comes to student disciplinary matters, Gilbert says she can’t get into specifics, but that it didn’t relate to a prank.
“None of the students have been removed, disinvited or disallowed from ceremonies due to a senior prank,” she said. “But yes, police had to be called for students who would not leave the school property when breaking code.
“They were asked and did not leave until after police were contacted,” she said.
Gilbert did state the Idaho Code that was being used in handling the situation, one of which is 18-916, which relates to assault and battery of a public school teacher. She clarified that the portion of the code they were focused on was not assault, but that which referred to “insulting and upbraiding,” or how people “talk, use profanity or get in the face of a teacher or administrator.”
“The kids did not hit an adult,” Gilbert said on Tuesday afternoon. “That’s not what happened and not what we’re saying happened.”
Furthermore, the students were not charged with a misdemeanor over the action, she stated, as Idaho code states anyone violating that code is guilty of one.
“They were removed from campus,” she said.
A parent of one of the students who was removed, who spoke to the newspaper on condition of anonymity, said that his understanding of the situation from his student was that when seniors were prohibited from participating in a prank of throwing water balloons at teachers, some profane language was thrown instead.
“And now they aren’t going to let [them] walk, because [they] didn’t pull [their] senior prank,” he said. “I understand there is no tolerance for violence, however, I am very aware that [a teacher] put his hands on a student recently, and that must be tolerable because he is still employed there.”
The parent was referring to an incident which spurred a student walkout in mid-March, due to allegations of a student getting expelled after reporting he had been pushed or pinned by the shoulders by a teacher.
At the time, Gilbert had said the accusations making the rounds on social media were “inaccurate and expanded.” On Tuesday, the superintendent restated that no students were expelled based on that incident. She also revealed that an investigation which had been conducted over that matter “showed no evidence of wrongdoing on the teacher.” That investigation was conducted by school administrators and the school resource officer, Gilbert said.
“So, in a nutshell, a bunch of seniors got water balloons to throw at teachers, they got caught before they threw anything, and then the principal or dean of students told them if they threw the balloons, charges would be pressed for battery or assault,” said the concerned parent, adding that it was the threat of charges that spurred some students into talking back in a profane manner.
“I mean, if [they were] going to make threats or be violent, get [them] out of there,” he said.
According to the parent, students were not told last week they would not be able to participate in graduation, just that they couldn’t do senior activities, including senior night on Tuesday night.
The commencement ban wasn’t found out until Monday, he said, by a parent who was visiting the school to get end of the year things “in order.” This resulted in at least one student returning to the school on Monday after finding out and subsequently being handcuffed and taken to the station to be booked on trespassing charges.
That removal was possible due to code 33-512.11, Gilbert cited, which “prohibits entrance and loitering in school houses or grounds and to provide for removal of individuals who disrupt the educational processes or whose presence is detrimental to the morals, health, safety, academic learning or discipline of the pupils.”
“I will tell you this is not an easy decision,” Gilbert said. Administrators who conducted the investigation “spent Thursday to Monday in thinking through all sides of the decision. They are disappointed for these kids more so than the kids are in themselves. It is not an easy decision. They are not taking it lightly.”
“We’ve got upset parents … and my child has worked really hard … [they are] very, very heartbroken not to be able to walk down the aisle and participate in what [they have] earned,” he said, adding that school officials have informed he and his wife that the decision is final.
Asked whether there might be any possibility that the decision would be reversed, the superintendent said no.
“It is heartbreaking, but they have the potential to move beyond this,” Gilbert said. “They will graduate. They will have a diploma. They can move beyond this as individuals. And we wish the best to each of them.”