Nearly a day into the investigation into the latest case of vandalism on the campus of East Paulding High School, officials with Paulding County Schools were still trying to answer several key questions in the case—among them, who was involved in the incident, and how did they make it onto the campus?
Possible answers to the latter include the residential areas that touch the school’s boundaries, or the road that connects the high school to East Paulding Middle, according to Associate Superintendent Brian Otott.
“What we have been able to ascertain at this time is they did not use the main entrance to the school,” Otott told Dallas-Hiram Patch. “There is access on all sides for anyone who is willing to do something like this to get onto the campus. We don’t know yet how they got onto campus.”
No matter the route they used, the individuals got onto the campus about 1:46 a.m. Monday, according to a release from the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office. Once there, they spray-painted exterior parts of the school, including the auxiliary gym, two hallways, walls of the school and some sidewalks. Messages spray-painted on about 20 areas of the school included “Class of 2015,” “Illuminati,” and “Don’t do drugs, just smoke weed.”
Those involved in the incident—whether students, teens who do not attend East Paulding, others or a combination thereof—also remains unclear, as is their number. While neither law enforcement nor school district officials have revealed the exact number of individuals involved, Otott said it is believed to be a small number—far fewer than the number involved in March’s incident at the school.
March’s instance of vandalism saw school buildings spray-painted to include windows; some perpetrators also made it onto the school’s roof, which was also painted. Some of the things written in spray paint were “Senior,” “2012” and “YOLO.”
Two vehicles also were spray-painted in the March incident, as were the guardhouse, fences, signs, a scoreboard and the school’s pirate ship. Vandals also threw chairs, tables and benches into the school’s parking lot.
School district officials said the clean-up of the March incident was estimated at $7,500. Monday’s vandalism is expected to cost the district $1,000 to $1,200.
“Anytime something like this happens, it’s very unfortunate, because the dollars that we’re spending to correct the damages, of course, are taken away from students and programs we offer in the county,” Otott said. “We want to make sure that students think and make good choices, [but] now in this case, we don’t know yet if it’s students, so from the district’s perspective, [we want] anyone that lives in our community make good choices because their actions have consequences, not only legally but also for the school district.”
Those involved in Monday’s incident could face charges of criminal interference with government property, a felony under Georgia Code 16-7-24. The 24 teens arrested in connection with the March incident could have stared down such charges, but they instead took a deal Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan that had them enter a pre-trial diversion program in lieu of facing prosecution. Terms of the deal included 400 hours of community service and $720 in fees.
The teens have until April to complete the program; else they could face prosecution and a possible sentence of imprisonment for one to five years.
Suspension, expulsion possible if students were involved
If any students are found to have been involved in the incident, Otott said they could be found to have committed what the district deems a “Level One” offense as spelled out in Board Policy JD, which covers student discipline. Such offenses are defined in the policy as “those that significantly threaten the safety of students and staff, significantly disrupt the orderly school environment, and/or may result in injury or significant loss of property.”
Under the policy, possible punishments for a Level One offense include placement in in-school suspension for 10 days or less, out-of-school suspension for 10 days or less, or referral to a disciplinary tribunal for a long-term suspension or expulsion from school.
District officials declined to reveal the extent of punishments faced by students involved in March’s vandalism, citing student privacy laws. But according to Jake Zimmerman, one of the 24 teens who had been arrested in connection with the March incident, the punishments included 10 days of out-of-school suspension followed by long-term suspension for the remainder of the school year.
Zimmerman and his family in April appealed the punishments to the Paulding County School Board, which not only upheld them but also levied an additional stipulation—a ban from extracurricular activities, including graduation.
But a judge overruled the school board’s added stipulation via a preliminary injunction, giving Zimmerman the green light to walk at graduation. Zimmerman, who was named the school’s valedictorian in May, participated in commencement exercises but was not allowed to give a valedictorian speech.
Return to Dallas-Hiram Patch for updates on the latest vandalism case.
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