BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – More details have come to light regarding the vandalism that currently has approximately 20 seniors banned from walking the stage at the Fort Madison High School graduation on June 2.
On Monday school district officials suspended the students and informed them they wouldn’t be allowed to walk the stage at commencement ceremonies, prompting a packed house at Monday night’s FMCSD school board meeting.
Several students and parents made statements to the board pleading for the students to be able to participate in the ceremony. The board however has no role in disciplining students but would serve as a ruling body in any appeal where both sides would be able to present information.
The Fort Madison Police Dept. released a statement on Tuesday just after 3 p.m. outlining the vandalism that was discovered at the school at around 6 a.m. Sunday morning.
According to the release, “school officials arrived at the school and found the front of the school coverered in toilet paper, as well as the trees. Upon closer review they noticed posters that were ‘glued’ using Vaseline to the inside front of doors as well as balloons, some filled with water, strewn about the front foyer. The front doors were also tied shut from the inside using tow rope. The investigation also revealed drinks spilled on the gym floor that were covered with toilet paper. School officials were concerned that may have damaged the gym floor, but it was able to be cleaned and no permanent damage was done.
“Once inside, administrators found the mess left behind by 19 seniors who have all been identified through video surveillance. It was immediately evident that students had somehow gained access to the building. Upon closer review, it appears that there was a door that may have been rigged to stay open or the lock was disabled on Friday.”
The information from the police department also indicated students burned toilet paper rolls creating a fire hazard due to the building being covered in toilet paper and a smoke bomb was set off outside the building, according to student interviews.
The release said the county attorney’s office was contacted for advice as to how the criminal aspect of the vandalism would be handled. The School Resource Officer has explained to the students that there is a possibility of criminal mischief charges as well as possible citations for trespassing, restitution for cleanup, and possible community service.
County Attorney Ross Braden said he’s working on a deferred agreement for each of the students.
“I’m working toward a satisfactory resolution to hold these students accountable for their conduct without potentially having a criminal charge on their record as a result of their participation,” Braden wrote in an email on Tuesday afternoon.
“It was a prank that was taken too far. It will be up to them as to whether they would like to comply with the proposed terms of a deferred prosecution agreement, which I intend to offer without formal charges, or potentially face a formal charge.”
Fort Madison Community School District President Tim Wondra reiterated in a letter to the editor, after receiving many calls and statements from district residents, that the board is not involved in disciplining the students and has to stay neutral in the event a timely appeal is filed. In that case the board would act as “the judge and jury in an attempt to be neutral to give both sides equal opportunity to present their case.”
Wondra, did however say in the letter that he was disappointed in a class that has accomplished so much.
“I am truly disappointed that the default setting for this group was to break the law.”
He said students were given a warning by administration that a senior prank would be result in the students not walking the stage at graduation. The students also gained access to a locked building at 11 p.m. on Sunday night.
“The students knew what they were doing was wrong. If there’s an appeal process then it will have to follow the proper policy timeline,” he said.