Students lose prom, graduation privileges after senior prank
Incident ends with 3 students arrested, several others losing out on prom, graduation
What started out as a senior class prank on the last full day of class at Conant High School ended with three students in police custody and several more losing end-of-the-year privileges such as attending prom and graduation.
While school officials and police contend Thursday's prank -- which involved more than 100 students gathering in the hallway to cheer loudly and throw glitter and Silly String in the air -- was handled appropriately, some parents and students are questioning the severity and selectivity of the punishment.
An eight-minute video posted on YouTube shows a tight crowd of cheering, jumping students packing the hallways. Several teachers can be seen wading into the crowd, while the kids jump up and down chanting "2012" and "YOLO," an acronym for "You Only Live Once."
"Some of the gathering was tolerated by our staff because it was kids just being kids at the end of the year, but when it got out of hand and became a safety issue, that's when we stepped in, and that was met with resistance from the students," said Tom Petersen, director of community relations for District 211. Petersen added that students were pushing, shoving and lifting one another on top of the crowd.
Hoffman Estates police Sgt. Darin Felgenhauer said police were called shortly before noon and more than 10 officers responded. The three students taken into custody included two juveniles and one adult, who did not stop throwing items after repeatedly being ask to by staff and police, police said. Omar Moreno, 18, of Hoffman Estates, was charged with one count of disorderly conduct, a Class C misdemeanor, and released on $125 bond. Moreno will next appear in court June 19.
"At the end of the year, we always remind students to make wise decisions and that their actions can effect end-of-the-year celebrations," Petersen said.
Moreno said he was surprised by the arrest and how far he felt the administrators took the punishment for a few students.
"There were so many other people who did the same thing, and for only a handful of us to get in trouble, I feel that's wrong," Moreno said, adding that he was sworn at by administrators as he was taken to the office.
Petersen did not give a specific number of students who were disciplined by Conant, but said it is fewer than 10. Discipline ranged from not being allowed to attend Friday morning's senior breakfast, to being banned from Friday evening's Prom and even Sunday's graduation ceremony. He added that he cannot discuss individual student disciplinary issues, but that those students disciplined were being physical -- pushing and shoving -- or not disbanding after being asked to. The majority of students involved, who were not punished, were just cheering or maybe just got caught up in the crowd.
Petersen said school officials were alerted to the prank Thursday morning through Facebook. They warned students of the potential consequences and offered amnesty to any student who turned in glitter and Silly String ahead of time, which some did.
"Students were well aware of the expectation," Petersen said.
Students, meanwhile, say they were just trying to have a good time and celebrate the end of the year but now wish they could take it back.
Moreno said he's most upset about missing graduation, which would be the first time his large, mixed family would all be in the same room together in years.
Kevin Carrillo, 18, of Hoffman Estates was not arrested but said he did lose prom and graduation privileges.
"I'm graduating high school and I want my parents to be there and watch me," Carrillo said. "It's not worth it. I do regret it."
Parent Patricia Laudando of Elk Grove Village, whose son Angel Datoli was one of the juveniles brought into police custody, said the punishment went too far.
"The punishment doesn't fit the crime," she said. "To take away the graduation ceremony, you aren't hurting the child, you're hurting the parents. We wait all our lives for these milestones in their lives and it only comes once in a lifetime. I get to miss out on that and that breaks my heart."
Datoli, 17, said he also wishes the situation had turned out differently and said he's devastated by the outcome.
"I waited all four years for my senior prom and graduation," Datoli said.
Laudando and Moreno also claimed that administrators violently pulled students from the group and swore at students, an allegation Petersen said the school is investigating.
"I think our staff acted appropriately," Petersen said. "Part of our investigation is how we responded. We want to make sure kids are safe. There's a great trust parents put in us and we have to uphold that."
School board President Robert LeFevre defended the actions of the high school. After looking at the video he said the students were posing a safety and security problem that needed to be addressed.
"People have to feel safe and secure in our schools and all that occurring is a problem," he said. "If you don't listen to teachers and follow instructions, that's a problem. Stuff flying through the air and people being sprayed, that's a problem."
Petersen said a few minor injuries were reported to the nurse, but nothing serious.
Moreno said that while the prank was foolish, it was not malicious.
"All we had was glitter and Silly String. It was completely harmless," Moreno said. "It was just a silly prank. We weren't hurting anyone."
Petersen said the prank and the fallout are a distraction from the typically celebratory end of the year festivities.
"It's too bad this happened because it's not reflective of the rest of the school or the students and staff at this building. It's very unfortunate," he said.
Laudando said she took her son to the school Thursday afternoon to apologize, but that administrators refused to see them. She adds they were treated rudely, which is when she said she called the media.
"If they would have taken a few minutes to let my son apologize and talk this through like adults, this would not have escalated," she said, "I'm not an unreasonable human being."
Petersen said he doesn't know what happened when Laudando came to Conant on Thursday afternoon, but that school administrators are usually available to talk to families.
As graduation festivities go on as planned this weekend, Datoli, Moreno and Carrillo said this was a negative finale to their high school years.
"It was the last day of our high school career. We were just having fun like any other senior would," Moreno said. "They took it too far."
Even if Laudando doesn't get to watch her son go to prom or graduate, she said they'll still celebrate this weekend.
"I'll have him put his tuxedo on and take him out to dinner anyway," she said. "It won't be the same, but we'll manage."
Prank: Some parents, students say punishments are too harsh