My name is Kim Fehseke and my daughter McKenna Fehseke was involved in the senior prank at Fort Madison High School Sunday, May 20th. In recent days there has been much miscommunication and speculation regarding the incident. I am writing today to clear up misunderstandings, publicly share the stance I have as a parent regarding the event, and inform the public of current proceedings.
On social media and other related forums, there is a line of thought which suggests parents want leniency for these children, that somehow, we feel our kids don’t need to have any accountability or that they should be exempt for their actions. This is categorically not true. What I desire as a parent is that my child receives a consequence that is both within the established guidelines of the Fort Madison School District handbook/policies and one that is equivalent in precedence to previous similar infractions. It is clear the Fort Madison Community School District wants to make examples of the students involved in the senior prank and it is within their right to do so, but only to the extent to which they themselves have provided authority and outlined as appropriate disciplinary action.
The disciplinary consequences the students received were immediate out of school suspension for a period of 13 days, a ban from school property which includes school events and the inability to complete any outstanding schoolwork or finals (grades were locked at the time of suspension), ineligibility to participate in the graduation ceremony, and criminal prosecution.
The first item to address is that of criminal activity. The total cost incurred to clean up the prank was less than $690, per information provided by the school to the Lee County Attorney’s office. At the urging of the Fort Madison Community School District, criminal punishment has been pursued and all the involved students are working their way through the criminal process which includes making the school financially whole, (reimbursement of the $690 for clean up expense), and each individually serving 20 hours of community service.
The pursuit of the criminal consequence, although well within the right of the school district, is without precedence and ironic, given the school district’s proclamation of being invested in the future success of their students. It seems the decision was made with flagrant disregard for potential hardships that students may incur to maintain or achieve current and future scholarships, college and graduate school admissions and future employment.
It is my stance the Fort Madison Community School District does not have the right to ban the students from the commencement ceremony, according to the Fort Madison Community School Board Policies and Handbook for the following reasons:
1. A student’s right to participate in Commencement proceedings is an earned right and cannot be revoked under the circumstances.
Board Policy 505.7 states that “students who have met the requirements for graduation will be allowed to participate in the commencement proceedings.” Requirements in the handbook refer only to academic requirements students must achieve. There are no other conditions or criteria for participation in commencement according to the handbook. Therefore, participation is a right afforded to each eligible student which cannot be revoked.
2. Penalties cannot extend beyond ten days to ban students from the participation in Commencement.
Board Policy 503.0 states that “an out of school suspension will not exceed ten days. Similarly, Page 69 of the handbook states that “an out-of-school suspension will not exceed ten days.” The school board arbitrarily violated its own policy in assessing a suspension exceeding 10 days. The maximum out of school suspension the students should have received according to the policies set by the Fort Madison School District is 10 days, beginning Monday, May 21 and ending Thursday, May 30th. Commencement occurs Saturday, June 2 and the students should be welcome to attend.
It should be noted that Board Policy 503.1-R-1 gives a school principal the authority to suspend students and states “a student may be suspended out of school for up to ten school days…” This policy, however, is applicable to class attendance.
In a letter to the editor at the Pen City Current on May 22, 2018, Dr. Tim Wondra, President of the Fort Madison School Board, makes a reference that the school board “knows students were warned ahead of time that if they did a ‘senior prank’ they would not be able to walk at commencement ceremonies.” Even assuming, for a moment, the alleged warning did occur, established school disciplinary policies can’t be amended on the fly without proper procedure.
I do not want there to be any misunderstanding. These students made a mistake and broke the law. For doing so, they and have been punished to the highest possible extent and the Fort Madison School District is trying to flex their muscle and punish them to an unprecedented degree that is outside their established disciplinary policy. It is shocking and saddening and in my opinion, grossly out of sync with the circumstances. These students however, cannot be kept from the graduation ceremony given that it is their right to participate, having achieved the required academic rigors and the imposed suspension is excessive and in violation of the district’s policy. They should immediately be welcomed to commencement and incur no further punishment. The students and parents are pursuing the appeal process with the Fort Madison Community School Board and have submitted appeals to the board. Parents are in contact with Dr. Tim Wondra to discuss timing and details of the appeal process. Included with this release are copies of the appeal request sent by Richard Fehseke and McKenna Fehseke. (the appeal letters can be found at the following link: FehsekeAppealFMSchoolBoard