MARTINEZ -- A Contra Costa County judge says he'll decide by Wednesday whether to intervene in disciplinary action taken by Heritage High School against seniors who carried out a prank at the Brentwood school a week before graduation.
More than 50 seniors were suspended during finals week and banned from the school's June 9 commencement ceremony after a prank that included tethering a lamb to a post and running around the campus with their feet covered in washable paint. The lamb's wool was painted with "Ha Ha" and "Class of 2012," but it was found to be in good health.
More than 80 students were involved in the prank, according to the school.
Parents of about a dozen of the suspended student hired an attorney who is petitioning Contra Costa County Superior Court to force the Liberty Union School District to rescind the suspensions, or at least seal records of them, so the disciplinary action won't derail any college admissions or scholarships.
Arguing before Judge David Flinn on Monday, attorney Peter Johnson said school administrators violated the law and their own procedures in the way they handed out suspensions. The prank does not constitute a suspendable act for a first-time offender under the school's own bylaws, Johnson said.
He said the school was required by protocol, and by law, to consider alternative means of punishment for first-time offenders and that parents should have been brought into disciplinary discussions.
The school warned students that they'd be banned from the graduation ceremony and held liable for damages if they did a prank that was harmful or destructive, but the Class of 2012's prank was neither, Johnson said. He argues the students' due process and equal protection rights were violated because some prank participants were suspended and others were not.
The school district disagrees at most every turn. It says it took more than six hours to clean up after the students, even though many of the students were part of the cleanup effort. School district attorney Anne Collins said administrators followed the district's "disciplinary matrix" and punishments were administered on a student-by-student basis as a result of independent investigations into each teen's role.
The suspended students are no longer fighting in court to take finals they missed during the suspensions. Collins said all of the teachers have now agreed to administer makeup exams. Many students were originally denied the opportunity and risked failing classes.
Johnson said at least one teacher gave the suspended students a final that was far more difficult than the one that he gave in class, and his students did poorly as a result, but he doesn't think there's a legal remedy for that.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.