Grassroots campaign afoot to ‘Let Them Walk’ at graduation.
By David Leone
BUNN — A campaign is afoot to try to get Bunn High School Principal Robin Faulkner to change her mind to not allow three seniors to attend graduation ceremonies Saturday following the egging of the gym lobby as a senior prank.
“Let Them Walk,” a flier made by Senior Nick O’Connell reads, pointing out that the teens, are “outstanding athletes and scholars,” have never been disciplined before or in trouble at school and have apologized to the entire school community for the June 3 prank.
The flier states that they are willing to perform any other kind of community penance to give their families the opportunity to see the culmination of their high school careers. O’Connell is friends with two of the teens, Freeman Jones and Rafael Ortega, whom he lists on the flier.
The Wake Weekly was not able to identify the third student.
The campaign has gained some traction, with supportive comments from students, parents and faculty members at Bunn. Most of the comments are favorable, outweighing negative remarks, including on a community website used as a news source and O’Connell’s personal Facebook page.
“Looks like both of these young men are on to bigger and better things so let’s build them up, not break them down,” wrote Brent Cardwell.
“Hope the courts make an example out of them! Not funny and kids today need to learn respect!” countered Belinda Kay.
But Christopher Rose added, “Can we not have a heart? Yes, they did something irresponsible but nonetheless I’m sure each person in that school has done worse. As a … Bunn High School [graduate] and father of three, I say that is pathetic to punish the family. … The parents have fed, clothed and paid school funds just to see their kids succeed and to graduate.”
But Franklin County Schools won’t budge, and the Superintendent has said in an e-mail the decision rests with Faulkner, O’Connell’s mother, Bridget Mickshutz, shared.
Mickshutz is a former Wake Weekly employee.
“Countless phone calls from countless people have been made to Mrs. Faulkner and the school board begging her to reconsider and allow the boys to walk,” Mickshutz said in a message.
When reached by phone Tuesday, Faulkner promised to call back with an explanation of the incident and her reasoning to not let them attend the ceremony, but did not return the call.
Instead, Joe Baisley, Franklin County Schools interim public information officer, sent an e-mail stating that: “Franklin County Schools cannot discuss student disciplinary actions. However, the Franklin County Schools Code of Conduct states that any student who is in grades 6-12 and participates in breaking and entering has a minimum consequence of a 10-day out-of-school suspension.
“Vandalism is also in the Code of Conduct and is treated with the same consequences.”
Though the students entered through a window that had been left open, it’s still legally trespassing and breaking and entering. They could have been charged criminally, but Faulkner decided not to do so.
The code states that the suspension may last up to 10 days.
When pressed for an explanation on whether it is policy to include graduation exercises as part of that suspension, Baisley pointed to the statement in the student code of conduct that says: “A student who is placed on a short-term suspension will not be permitted to be on school property or to take part in any school function during the period of suspension without prior approval from the principal.”
Graduation services are considered a school function, he added. It was not clear whether that could be mitigated by the principal, and Baisley declined further explanation.
Parents lose out
None of the teens were charged with a crime. They admitted their guilt and cleaned up the mess. At the request of their parents, who were upset by their children’s actions, Mickshutz said, all three were given community service. Ortega had performed a day’s worth of service running the field concession stands by press deadline and expected to have completed the rest by week’s end at a Louisburg animal shelter.
That same student is entering the U.S. Marines after graduation.
In an open letter to the community, among other regrets, he wrote, “I can not apologize enough to my family, my teachers, coaches and to all of the Bunn community.”
The punishment is especially hard on his parents and family, who wanted the opportunity to celebrate his high school career and subsequent entrance into the armed forces on the same day.
His mother, Youngsville resident Vanessa Ortega, was very upset with her son’s actions and has meted out personal punishment at home on top of everything else. But missing graduation is less painful for him than it is her — she’s been waiting more than a decade to see her son walk across that stage.
“I pleaded the very next day on the 4th, I begged her (Faulkner). I cried, I pleaded with her, ‘Please don’t make him not walk,’” she said. “This is what I’ve looked forward to for 13 years. … My son is leaving for boot camp. I know for some people it doesn’t mean anything. For me it’s icing on the cake … to watch him graduate.”