A senior at Sophie B. Wright Charter School has sued the school over her punishment for participating in a "senior prank" that resulted in several students being suspended and barred from attending their May 13 graduation.
Lyric Naje Fernandez, the 18-year-old student, says in the suit that Wright officials violated her due process rights in not allowing her to properly contest the allegations in a hearing, as required under state law.
She asked for a preliminary injunction allowing her to attend graduation, saying she would suffer "irreparable harm" otherwise.
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Fernandez sued James Watson, president of the charter school's board; Sharon Clark, the school's principal; and Wayne Hardy, the dean of students.
Tracie Washington, an attorney for the school, said she couldn't comment on the Civil District Court suit because it hadn't yet been served. However, she said the school had handled the discipline "exceptionally well."
"I couldn't be more proud of them," she said of Sophie B. Wright officials. "They have been exceptionally fair."
The case was assigned to Judge Ethel Julien.
A water fight won't keep Sophie B. Wright seniors out of school after all, according to a report from WWL-TV.
A video obtained by WWL-TV showed dozens of students congregating in a stairwell before many went outside with water guns and water balloons during the prank, which happened on April 5.
Though it's not shown in the video, Watson said the students used eggs, vinegar and mustard inside and outside the building, and that the bathroom had been "compromised."
Watson said the prank injured one teacher and one student and damaged school property. He also said school officials had issued multiple warnings that students would face "disciplinary action" if they participated in such an activity.
"Our policies are clearly defined and our students are constantly reminded that their actions have consequences," Watson said.
Fernandez was one of 13 students who were charged with participating in the prank. They were given a five-day suspension starting April 8, according to the suit.
A day later, she was given an opportunity to appeal in an "informal meeting," the suit says, and she filed an appeal on April 12.
Then, on April 16, she was told she could participate in a disciplinary hearing at the Orleans Parish School Board office a day later. But when she arrived, she and her parents instead found a note taped to the door saying that the suspension had been rescinded, after the fact.
Multiple New Orleans high school students have been barred from their graduation after participating in a "senior prank" at Sophie B. Wright e…
Fernandez later received a letter saying officials had denied her request to be exempt from other punishments, and on April 25 she received a refund check for her graduation fees, the suit says.
In her suit, Fernandez says the school violated her due process rights by not affording her the opportunity to make her case, and also violated state and federal laws aimed at protecting students' privacy because other classmates had been named in a letter sent out to families notifying them of the disciplinary actions.
The suit asks for a preliminary injunction allowing her to attend graduation on May 13 and a permanent injunction directing the school to clear her record. She also seeks unspecified damages, saying she has suffered and will continue to suffer "irreparable damage and harm" because she was forced to miss five days of school and her senior prom, in addition to possibly missing graduation.
"No amount of monetary recompense can adequately compensate Lyric for missing her only opportunity to walk across the stage and receive her well-earned accolades in (front) of family, friends and peers," her lawyer, Macy Ledet, said.
The suit refers to Fernandez as a "model student" and an intern for Youth Force Nola, which gives students access to work experience and technical skills.
Washington said that just seven of the students accused of pulling off the prank had been denied the opportunity to walk during graduation, and two weren't going to be able to participate, anyway, because they didn't meet state requirements.
"Graduation ceremonies in and of themselves are not rights; they are privileges," Washington said. "And there are consequences for bad behavior."