School Official: We Will Honor Judge’s Decision

East Paulding High senior Jake Zimmerman will get to take part in the school’s graduation ceremony next week.

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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Rick May 18, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Ladies and Gentlemen, we present to you and to the nation the Paulding County School Board. Who, with one notable exception of one, have been adjudicated to be tin-pot despots who oversee the instruction of students in civics, yet do not understand the Constitution of the United States. Behold your elected officials. Merciless bureaucrats who sought retribution on a teenager who dared defy them, imposing a harsher sentence on a teen who truthfully admitted to a lesser role in a crime that other co-conconspirators received a lesser punishment for executing. What should taxpayers think of the board's general counsel, who led the county straight into a reversal of the board's decision? Worth the salary? This is why the courts are there--to help the stupid--not just the teen, but the adults who have lost sight of what it is to be a kid, what it is to follow the Constitution, and how to (if the every knew) to shape young lives. This is why courts exist, to save us from minor politicians with too much power over our lives and too little sense to wield it. Congrats, school board.
Del Simmons May 18, 2012 at 11:18 AM
Hear, hear, Rick! Well said, Sir! And personally I think the 400 hours of community service was excessive as well. By the time these 23 kids get done with 400 hours of service each, they will have performed almost 10 times the $8000 clean up costs, if you assume minimum wage for their work. And that doesn't even consider the various fines and such that they have had to pay. I'm a law and order kind of guy, but it sometimes seems to me that common sense has gone out the window in this county when it comes to the issue of deciding reasonable punishments for childhood pranks like this. Maybe it is time for some new faces on this elected body?
Melinda Paris May 18, 2012 at 12:09 PM
I agree with you both.it was all excessive, and for the ONE to have painted the road in front of the school and NOT even go on school property, his feet was really held to the fire, the county is receiving 23,000.00 just in fines, plus the 400 hours of service each, even though I think the community service was a good thing, but alittle over board. My understanding is this: "some" of the teachers knew that was the night of the senior prank, so I don't think the entire staff is innocent either, they should be out there picking up trash too for not squealing on them, then we wouldn't be having this conversation. I think its really bad that "some" of the students decided to deface buildings and the county truck--there is a difference between a fun prank and carrying it too far, but as usual, everyone gets the same treatment in the end. My biggest ISSUE was NOT letting these kids walk at graduation, even though they might have made a bad choice at the end of their senior year, they have been dedicated, and committed to school for over 12 1/2 years if you count k5--so one mistake shouldn't take away their thunder of their families getting to attend and see and hear their kids names read out loud, graduation is probably more for the families anyway, so bascially the parents were getting penalized, and I GUESS that resonated w/me being a mom, I would be crushed if my child after 13 years of school could not walk across the stage, so finally someone made the right decision.
Del Simmons May 18, 2012 at 12:17 PM
The worst part about this situation, and the thing that the judge rightly called out as an unconstitutional violation of Mr. Zimmerman's First Amendment rights, is that this School Board decided to heap additional punishment on Zimmerman simply because he dared to express his opinion that he was being treated unfairly. He came to a meeting and simply requested that the punishment be reconsidered. For that he was banned from Graduation and any other outside activities related to the school system. This was clearly an attempt by the members of the board to try to intimidate the other 22 impacted students so they they would be too afraid to request review as well.
monica May 18, 2012 at 12:23 PM
Agreed, first offence gets parents called not the school board. Send the kids out side with some goof off and a sponge and make them scrub it off and then do all the garden/lawn maintainance in a pink jumpsuit to teach them a lesson. Before the damn jumping the gun with legallity and persicution (400hrs of community service what a friggin joke)
Molly May 18, 2012 at 01:09 PM
so do I understand that ALL 24 get to walk on graduation or is it just this Jake Kid?????
Del Simmons May 18, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Molly, Jake was the only one barred from walking, because he was the one who went to the board and asked for the punishment he received to be reconsidered. At least, that is what I understand. That was what the judge had a problem with. He was given additional punishment (banned from graduation) after he went to the school board meeting and requested a review of the punishment. So I don't think the other 22 students were ever barred from participating in graduation in the first place. I could be wrong, but that is what I understand from the news stories I have read.
dm May 18, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Look, I am all for "senior prank day" but this was not a prank, this was willful and malicious destruction. To say, the HE ONLY participated a little bit sends out a terrible message. I teach my kids you do not have to actually participate in a crime to be guilty. Simply being there makes you an accessory as well. If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem which all the participating students were. I fully support the punishment of the students. And as proud as Zimmerman should be of his grades, I do not believe he should be in contention to represent EPHS at graduation. As far as first offense goes, really??? This wasnt a first offense slap on the wrist event, it was a crime. I agree, I would be devistated if my kids were in this situation, but regardless, the kids commited a crime...consequences are consequences.. These kids should have thought about that before committing the crime. Lastly, to put these kids in catagories of "big crime", "lesser crime" is ridiculous. They all took part and knew what they were doing. You can't be just a little bit pregnant!! What they did was wrong. Crimes have consequences.
Mc May 18, 2012 at 01:59 PM
I'm right with you dm.
Del Simmons May 18, 2012 at 03:01 PM
I don't disagree with anything you said, dm, and I ALWAYS add additional consequences on for my kids when they get in trouble at school, but I still think the punishment was excessive here. Let's think about the numbers for a minute. We had $7500 worth of clean up that had to be done and a lot of admin overhead to deal with the whole issue. That means each of the 23 kids, on average, did about $325 damage. This should clearly be punished, and I agree that they should all be held equally accountable. So then think about the actual punishment they received.. In addition to the fines and fees, which more than covered the cost of the clean up, they got an additional 400 hours of service time. That is two and a half months of full time labor at 40 hours a week! That is way overboard, in my opinion. All this student did was ask the board to reconsider that decision. He has a right to make that request.
Del Simmons May 18, 2012 at 03:02 PM
The truly embarrassing details, however, come in the actual ruling that the judge made. He didn't even address the original punishment because he rightly left that to the school board to decide. He was addressing the additional punishment that was heaped onto this one student who spoke up to ask for reconsideration. That was clearly an attempt to silence him and attempt to intimidate the other students so that they would not ask for reconsideration either. That is what the judge ruled on. He ruled that this School Board potentially violated this student's First Amendment rights, and that is something that every member of this board should be ashamed of being a part of.
Del Simmons May 18, 2012 at 03:08 PM
The preliminary injunction would indicate that the judge believes that there is merit to Zimmerman's case against the School Board. It will be interesting to see where the case ends up in the long run.
Del Simmons May 18, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Here are some links to additional coverage of the story: http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2012/05/17/judge-shows-more-mercy-on-accused-east-paulding-high-vandal-than-school-board/?cxntfid=blogs_get_schooled_blog http://www.therightsphere.com/2012/05/federal-judge-smacks-down-vindictive-school-board/
Rick May 18, 2012 at 03:18 PM
I disagree dm. My onion-paged volume of the code of GA from 1907 stated that the mere presence of someone at the scene of a crime (or fleeing from one) does not suffice on its face as proof of guilt. This was inherited from the common law and sill stands today. Not all were charged equally as co-conspirators. As others have stated, Zimmerman alone was singled out because of his trying to make use of the appellate process and for talking with the media. Forget for a moment the initial crime, which the kid confessed to doing. Focus on the outcome and the ruling. A judge, well versed in the Constitution, fond violations of the 1st and perhaps 14th Amendments. That should give everyone pause.
Rick May 18, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Hi Del, I'm loving your posts. My guess is that the family will probably let it die. They sought injunctive relief and got it. The school wisely said it would follow the order and I figure that damages would be hard to prove. He already had access to the media, so they didn't "chill" his speech. And, his right to education was still being met, albeit poorly as one can imagine, in alternative school. They'll probably want to focus more on getting the lad to Tech. It's up to the voters to figure out what to do with most of the board members and the attorney (Cable, is it?) who signed off on the decision to bully a high school kid.
Robbin May 18, 2012 at 04:50 PM
I fully agree dm. This was a crime they committed! That's what's wrong with our young adults now, their parents always saying; "it's ok, I'll fix it for you." They are all old enough to know what they did is wrong!!!! They took lots of time planning to do what damages they did! It wasn't a spur of the moment thought! I feel that while they have the right to graduate, by no means should they represent the school they chose to vandalize!!!
Del Simmons May 18, 2012 at 05:10 PM
I'm sad to say that it seems we have some challenges in this community with basic reading comprehension.. Nobody said this wasn't a crime. Nobody said the kids shouldn't be punished. Nobody said the kids should not be held accountable for what they did. Even the student in question CONFESSED and the lawyer representing him acknowledged his guilt. Read, people! The real point of this legal action, and the reason I'm glad the judge ruled the way that they did, is that this School Board decided to heap additional punishments on to one student simply because he spoke about the topic in public and he appealed to the board to consider whether he was treated fairly or not. He is guaranteed by the US Constitution the right to do both of these things, and the School Board tried to silence him and intimidate the other students by giving him additional punishment (on top of what all the other students got) simply for speaking about the issue in public and addressing them in the board meeting. If you don't have a problem with that then I'd recommend you get yourself a pocket copy of the Constitution from Cato.org and give it a quick read.
Del Simmons May 18, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Rick, enjoying your posts as well! I can see why the family would just let it ride at this point. They have gotten the relief they sought and the rest of the issues will work itself out when he's off and gone to college. I hope the School Board has learned a valuable lesson from this experience. I won't hold my breath. And you're correct in criticising the board's general counsel. Anyone with a basic understanding of the First Amendment should have seen this outcome coming from a mile away.
Del Simmons May 18, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Rick, do you have a link to the actual text of the ruling? I'd like to read what it actually said..
Karyn Johns May 18, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Merciless bureaucrats-smureaucrats! Poor teenagers-whoa is me? I bet you didn't own one of the many cars or signs that they vandalised. Do you live on the road near the school and have to drive by that grafitti for 3 days afterward? Those teenagers BROKE THE LAW-they all played a role (lesser or not) ! The only people that are not guilty are the other 300+ seniors that stayed at home that night. Come On People don't feel sorry for the vandals-maybe this will teach them a lesson before they get out in the real world!
Del Simmons May 18, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Man, there are a lot of straw men being stood up in these comments. I commend you all on being able to stand them up and knock them right back down with such skill!
CC May 18, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Jake wasn't as innocent as everyone has been led to believe. He was still party to a crime and should not have been treated any differently. For being such a bright young man, he along with all of the others involved made a very poor decision. Crimes have consequences.
Del Simmons May 18, 2012 at 05:47 PM
CC, nobody here said he was innocent, that I've seen. You said he shouldn't be treated special, and we all agree. He also shouldn't have been given additional punishments, above and beyond what all the other students received, simply because he spoke in public on the topic and he used the legitimate appeal process to ask the board to reconsider. That is the issue at hand in this legal case. Nobody is saying he should get off any less than the others. The court just ruled he shouldn't be given MORE punishment than everyone else as well.
Rick May 18, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Sorry Del. I don't have access to PACER anymore or Lexis. KJ. I don't feel sorry for the teen. He won. I feel sorry for the other children and parents who have to suffer under rule of dullards with no noticeable understanding of basic precepts of equal protection. Again, you must have scrolled past many of the salient arguments here. It's not the mercy of the tin-pot bureaucrats that worries many of us; it is their judgment.
CC May 18, 2012 at 07:27 PM


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