With just days before his fellow seniors walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, senior Jake Zimmerman .
Despite the Paulding County School Board’s decision last month to , a preliminary injunction issued Thursday from U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy in Rome will allow the senior to take part in commencement exercises, set for May 26 at 10 a.m. at the high school.
Zimmerman had been following . His original punishment, which he says was also levied against others involved in vandalism of the school and nearby roadway, included 10 days of out-of-school suspension followed by long-term suspension for the rest of the year, the latter of which is carried out by . But that punishment package would still allow those involved to graduate from East Paulding and participate at graduation ceremonies.
Zimmerman and his family appealed the punishment, and the school board at its April 10 meeting answered the appeal by levying the additional stipulations after returning from a closed session that lasted nearly four hours.
“The ruling of the court [Thursday] was that Jake had a constitutional right to appeal to the school board, had a right to speak with the media as he freely did in the time between his initial tribunal and the time of the school board hearing,” said attorney Lester Tate, who is representing Zimmerman. “And the actions taken by school board in upping the penalty when they had no basis to do so was retaliatory and violated Jake’s First Amendment rights.”
Paulding County Schools Associate Superintendent Brian Otott said district officials as of Thursday afternoon had not received a copy of the official ruling from the court, but said the school system intends to follow the judge’s order.
“The district believes the decision to not allow Mr. Zimmerman to participate in the ceremony should be made by the local board,” Otott said. “However, the district respects Judge Murphy’s rulings and will certainly honor it, and the district hopes all parties will do everything in their power to make the graduation ceremony a positive event for all seniors and their families.”
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 paintings across the campus, in addition to “Senior” and “2012,” also included the text “YOLO” and “Musgrove is a [expletive]”—the latter message seemingly targeting Assistant Principal Greg Musgrove. In all, school district officials said clean-up of the damage to East Paulding High .
Neither Zimmerman nor Tate deny Zimmerman’s involvement in the vandalism, but both say his role in it was limited to spray-painting the intersection in front of the school—a long-time tradition for the school’s senior classes, they say.
Zimmerman, like the 23 other teens arrested and initially charged with criminal interference with government property for their role in the vandalism, accepted the deal offered last month by Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan to enter a pre-trial diversion program in lieu of facing prosecution. That deal has the teens each performing 400 hours of community service and altogether paying the Paulding County School System’s clean-up costs, which . Each teen is also set to pay $720 in fees—a $300 administration fee to the county and $420 to cover 12 months of pre-trial diversion expenses.
“His parents told me today that all Jake does is study and go try to get his community service hours done,” Tate said. “Jake always felt like he was willing to accept responsibility—it was the proportionality of the penalty imposed on him and him being a relatively minor player [in the vandalism]”, “and we still feel that he’d have a great case.”
Zimmerman, president of his senior class, was on pace to be valedictorian before the March 11 incident. Tate says the student remains in contention for the honor despite being taken out of his classes as part of the punishment.
“Although Jake was fearful about his grades, he reports to me that he’s done better than expected, that his grades have actually gone up. He’s still competitive to be the valedictorian, but we’ll have to see how that comes out with the final numbers,” he said. “Certainly, we wish that he had continued to get instruction in [his Advanced Placement] courses … and he wasn’t able to get that in the alternative school. But you’re talking about an extremely bright kid who has excelled academically for his whole life, and I think Jake has been able to step up to the plate and do as well as you can expect for anybody in that situation.
“We’ll just have to wait and see if that’s enough.”
In the meantime, Tate says he is looking to attending the graduation ceremony to see Zimmerman receive his diploma.
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