End-of-the-year high school pranks are almost as much of a tradition as receiving a diploma, but 25 students at Brentwood's Heritage High School weren't laughing Monday when they learned they had been suspended after a series of stunts that included chaining a lamb to a pole, moving a 500-pound concrete bench and running around campus with their feet covered in paint.
Alarmed parents were pleading with school officials for leniency Monday after learning that their children won't be able to complete finals this week or take part in graduation ceremonies Saturday, but school officials said the pranks went well beyond innocent fun. Students smeared multicolored washable paint on the ground and walls, stole school banners, slapped bumper stickers with obscene language onto walls and left a lamb in the center of campus.
"Just the gravity and extent of it goes beyond just some little pranks and leaving a footprint. It was excessive," Principal Larry Oshodi said. "It's a distorted rite of passage."
Brentwood police are investigating the incident as vandalism while looking into possible animal cruelty charges, Lt. Tom Hansen said Monday. Police do not have an estimate on damage.
Many parents outside campus Monday said the district's punishment is far too harsh and that it is not considering that some families already have relatives traveling to the area for graduation.
Oshodi said some parents knew what their children were
"There's a small handful of parents that gave tacit approval by actually dropping off their kids, and now they're up in arms," he said.
Some parents said they have sought legal counsel in case the issue drags out.
Rich Storer was trying to get the school to reverse his daughter's suspension, or lessen the punishment, for the footprint incident, given that there is such a small window until graduation.
"They really seem to be sticking to their guns," he said.
"They are giving a blanket punishment; not everybody should be punished in the same way," said his wife, Kathi Storer.
The Storers said their daughter will graduate even without taking finals, but some students might not have high enough grades to pass without taking the exams.
Oshodi said he and Liberty Union Superintendent Eric Volta will hold a meeting at the school Tuesday with the parents of those involved to announce a course of action.
"At this point, we're still reviewing everything," Oshodi said.
Heritage last month held an assembly where the nearly 420 seniors were given graduation information packets that specifically said there were to be no senior pranks, Oshodi said.
Some students, including the four boys involved in the lamb incident, were also outside holding banners that read "Sorry, Mom" and "We're still learning."
Daniela Ghiglieri, a senior who was involved in the paint-walk prank, said some of the nearly 80 students involved with that prank were on campus for more than six hours Sunday removing the paint with power washers.
The washable paint was supposed to be harmless, she said.
While students are showing remorse publicly, some are bragging about the pranks on social media and threatening those who may have "snitched," Oshodi said.
The situation worsened when windows and doors were tagged with spray paint Monday morning with messages indicating it was from the class of 2010.
Oshodi said there's a possibility it's the same group.
Like many students involved in the pranks, Solomon Harb, Austin Roach, Gabriel Soto and Wayne Engelstad, who purchased the lamb, said this is the first time they've been in trouble.
"Our class has just been pretty boring; we were just trying to get a good laugh. We weren't trying to be cruel or disrespectful," Roach said.
Harb said the lamb was purchased Thursday and had plenty of water and food before it was brought to the school. The 6-month-old lamb is being held as a stray at Contra Costa Animal Services and is normal and active, according to officials.
The prank could have put the animal in harm's way, Oshodi said, noting the area around Heritage is hilly and mountain lions have been spotted in the area.
Some parents and students argue that prior classes have done pranks that were more severe and did not receive the same consequences.
"If I have to follow that logic, then next year I better really brace myself," Oshodi said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.