Parents and community members are calling on Sophie B. Wright’s school board chair to call a special meeting to publicly address what they say is overly harsh punishment of senior students, an advocacy group announced.
On April 5, about 30 students were given five-day suspensions from Sophie B. Wright Charter School on Napoleon Avenue after a senior prank water fight. The students also had their senior privileges revoked, including walking for graduation, senior prom, senior picnic and their last day of school.
According to an April 8 statement from the school, students vandalized the school with water balloons, water guns, eggs, vinegar and mustard. Sophie B. Wright officials have said the prank resulted in injuries and could lead to legal action.
Sophie B. Wright High School Board President James Watson stated: “The incident on April 5 caused injury to at least one teacher and one student. Additionally, school property was sprayed with water and a restroom was compromised. Both personal injury and effects on property are currently under investigation. It is possible that damage caused by these students will result in criminal and civil actions.”
Our Voice Nuestra Voz, an activist group that works with parents on education issues, looked at the disciplinary punishment outlined in the school handbook and told the parents it did not match the given punishment, according to a press release from the group. The handbook given to students, the group said, stated punishment should have only included a “two-day suspension and parent conference” rather than the five days they received.
School officials have rescinded the already-served suspensions, but kept the other punishments, including being barred from their graduation ceremony.
“Taking away these students’ right to participate in graduation and senior activities is cruel,” One Voice Nuestra Voz stated. “Instead using heavy-handed and harsh punishment of these children, we should be using this as a developmental and restorative opportunity.”
On Tuesday, April 23, on radio station WBOK, parents and community members called on Watson to hold a special meeting of the board by May 3 and listen to what parents have to say. Under Sophie B. Wright’s bylaws, the group states, the board president can call a special meeting of the board of directors.
The school’s most recent board meeting was scheduled to be held days after the April 5 incident but was canceled at the last minute despite a turnout of parents. Sophie B. Wright does not have any more board meetings listed for the 2018-19 school year.
The school’s response was met with parental and community outrage and exhaustive media coverage. The release also said the suspension appeal hearing notices contained two key violations of Open Meetings Law.
“Sophie B. Wright School has still refused to provide a transparent forum for the community to collectively present their grievances directly with the board,” Our Voice Nuestra Voz states in its press release. “As a public school, the community has the right to observe any and all meetings of the board. The community deserves the opportunity to get answers from Sophie B. Wright’s board.”
Public support for the students continues to grow, with statements from the City Council and the Mayor’s Office. OVNV raised more than 1,300 signatures on a petition demanding that Sophie B. Wright School end the overly harsh punishment and allow the seniors to walk for graduation.
“A growing public conversation has been met with a deafening silence from the Sophie B. Wright board,” the OVNV release states. “The fact that parents were able to get the suspensions rescinded indicates that Sophie B. Wright knew that the punishments were overly harsh and unfair and would not hold up to scrutiny. Knowing this, all of the other punishments, including being barred from their own graduation ceremony, should also be rescinded.”