The class valedictorian of an Indianapolis high school and more than two dozen of her classmates were banned from graduation ceremonies after a senior prank caused significant damage to the campus, school officials said according to local reports.
The students from Crispus Attucks High School were not allowed to walk across the stage to pick up their diplomas this week, according to a statement from the Indianapolis Public Schools obtained by WRTV. The school district also claimed that those who took part would be “required to participate in a campus beautification effort as restitution for the damage caused,” according to the statement.
“Anyone found guilty of committing such acts will face harsh penalties,” the school district said.
During the senior prank on Tuesday, students as well as some adults “vandalized various areas of the school building, a local and national historical landmark,” according to the statement released by the school district. The pranksters allegedly wrote on walls with chalk, pulled a fire alarm, sprayed a fire extinguisher across a basketball court, smeared food on floors and scattered papers, including student records that are now possibly lost, according to WTHR.
The students still showed up for graduation on Thursday but were turned away and instead conducted their own ceremony across the street at a church. They will still receive their diplomas after completing eight hours of a campus beautification project, Valedictorian Kayla Hawthorne, 18, told PEOPLE.
Kayla said she and her pals participated in some of the more minor hijinks, such as scattering balloons, smearing canned food on door handles and tying them together, and posing a dummy made up to look like the principal in an office chair.
But others took it a step further and caused damage to the school, she said. She doesn’t think it’s fair that all of the students who took part in the prank were banned from graduation when only a few perpetrated the allegedly damaging crimes. And she also said she thinks school officials should have viewed video of the incident to determine who did what.
“I was very upset,” she said. “Although I was innocent, we still had to suffer the same consequences as the people who were culpable … I really think they have the ability to dig deeper and find out who did the vandalism.”
Her father, Robert Hawthorne, also thinks the punishment was too harsh but said he warned Kayla in advance that she would have to take responsibility. “I told her whatever consequence comes down, she gets whatever the group gets,” he tells PEOPLE. However, he added that he was told that the students, including Kayla, would not face criminal charges for the prank.
Kayla, a state wrestling champ who is headed to Purdue University in the fall on a scholarship, said she has been at every Attucks graduation since 2011, either for her brothers or as a member of the school’s band. Ironically, she was not at her own.
A rep for Indianapolis Public Schools did not respond to a request for comment.
It was just one of several similar incidents around the country where seniors have been banned from graduations due to pranks, including Baldwin High School in Milledgeville, Georgia, Wrightstown High School in Wisconsin, and East Hickman High School in Tennessee.