What is the right response to the graduation graffiti spree by East Paulding High students and graduates?
Should it be felony charges? Or should the wrongdoers be ordered to pay the costs to the county for the clean-up or work off their debt in service?
We can all agree that it was stupid for two dozen teens, including the senior class president at East Paulding High, to celebrate graduation with a vandalism rampage. But are felony charges overblown?
There is a trend to arrest teens for juvenile behavior that once warranted a stern lecture, a call to the parents, and a promise of restitution and reformation. An argument can be made that the cost and time to prosecute kids for this sort of nonsense are not worth it. Just make the kids pay for the damages, suspend them and then let them move on with their lives. Do we need a band of teens branded felons, which makes it far more difficult for them to get jobs?
The AJC has a new story today on the efforts on the class president to have the school suspension reconsidered, an effort that led the school board to ban the young man from graduation.
Before folks jump all over this teen, I want to ask a favor: Consider if this happened to your child or your grandchild. Many people soften their stance when their teen is the one picked up by police for loitering or underage drinking.
I always find it amusing to hear lawmakers decry people who take home loans they can’t repay when top House and Senate leaders default on loans and fail to pay their taxes. I also know of several lawmakers who sought leniency when their own kids were the ones in trouble with the law, blaming the errant actions on youthful ignorance.
Jacob Zimmerman, 17, was among two dozen students and recent graduates charged with a felony offense of interference with government property after they were accused of defacing property at and around the school last month.
Zimmerman admitted painting a skull and crossbones on the road outside the school, saying it was an annual tradition for seniors. But he said he left the scene before fellow pranksters moved to the school and painted vehicles and buildings, causing $7,500 in damage.
The school system suspended him for the duration of his high school career, banishing him to an alternative school. Officials would not discuss his case or the others, so it’s unclear whether all received the same punishment, though Zimmerman thinks they did.
Unlike most of the rest, he appealed the decision, and on Tuesday the school board denied his appeal. Then, a school board member made a motion to heap on more punishment: prohibiting Zimmerman from attending his graduation ceremony. The teen said Wednesday that the board voted 6-1 in favor of the motion.
“It really feels like they did it out of spite because I went against them,” Zimmerman said.
Board members said they couldn’t talk about their vote for various legal reasons, including student privacy and litigation. “Until this thing is resolved, I prefer not to make a comment on it,” said board member Sammy McClure. “We feel this thing is going to be appealed.”
The student’s mother, Denise Zimmerman, said her son was on track to be the class valedictorian. It’ll be difficult for him to win the honor while attending the alternative school, where no advanced placement classes are offered. He’ll have to keep up with his four AP classes on his own, she said.
Zimmerman and the other defendants are to meet with Paulding District Attorney Dick Donovan Friday. Donovan has the option of altering the charges, and said he’s reached a decision that he will reveal at the 2 p.m. meeting at the courthouse.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog