NEW ORLEANS – A last-minute legal maneuver in the case of the Sophie B. Wright graduating seniors who were punished after a senior prank would have allowed the students to walk across the stage at graduation.
Unfortunately, the decision by Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Christopher Bruno came too late for the students to participate in the school’s graduation, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The court’s decision is a welcome reprieve from the kinds of widespread and arbitrary school discipline practices that violate students’ due process rights,” SPLC senior supervising attorney Victor M. Jones said. “Even though the order was issued too late to let these brave students walk this morning, we could not sit by and not try while the students and their families missed a once-in-a-lifetime event without having been given the opportunity to explain what happened, and ignoring the cost of that punishment to their lives and futures.”
The April 5 prank involved graduating seniors spraying each other with water guns while running around outside the school’s Uptown campus.
A statement from school officials said the students used water balloons, water guns, eggs, vinegar, and mustard to vandalize the inside and outside of the school.
The students who participated in the senior prank were initially banned from walking the stage at graduation, banned from attending senior prom, and were suspended for five days.
“These kinds of due process violations are still too frequent in New Orleans and across this country,” Jones said. “They harm all children, but students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately the victims of these punitive, unjust practices. Fortunately, the court decided to put students first, granting them the right to walk alongside their peers at today’s graduation ceremony. Though they missed this morning, they know they had a right to be there. In the future, it is our hope that issues such as this do not require court intervention, and that everyone in the education community will make decisions to protect students’ rights, not violate them.”