Nearly 12 Virginia students have been arrested and now face criminal charges for the damage done to Varina High School after an apparent senior prank earlier this month.
Police and school officials identified 18-year-old suspects: Tiffany D. Birchett, Quniton E. Burt, Khadijah M. Ford, Dekell M. Lawrence, Khalil J. Randall, Donte W. Robertson, Aja D. Tart, and Justin Diggs, who were charged as adults in the incident. Two 17-year-old girls and one boy were charged as juveniles. There is a twelfth suspect who has yet to be charged. The teens face felony vandalism and misdemeanor trespassing charges, CBS 6 reported.
“Students involved face severe disciplinary actions, including the potential loss of participating in graduation ceremonies,” said Henrico Schools spokesman Andy Jenks. “That’s in addition to whatever criminal charges may or may not be placed.”
On the morning of June 4, Wednesday, eight of the students appeared before the Henrico General District Court. One suspect’s mother told a CBS 6 reporter that she and her daughter were prepared to accept any punishment, but believed the felony vandalism charges to be excessive.
According to police spokesman Lt. Linda Toney, the mess that was discovered May 27 included food items splattered on the walls of the school and words written on the sidewalk and signs.
“Chocolate sauce, syrup, rice, flour, and eggs were thrown onto numerous exterior areas of the school,” said Jenks. “In addition, trash cans were dumped and placed on the roofs of several buildings, and permanent marker was used to write on doors and walls. Most of the damage was cleaned up quickly that morning.”
Seven of the suspects are set to have a preliminary hearing on July 31. A petition calling for the felony charges against the Varina High School pranksters to be dropped has been circulating. And while these charges have left parents of the suspects surprised by the severity, this isn’t a new problem for Henrico school district.
Back in 2012, a national report revealed that Henrico had the largest disparity between suspensions of Black and White students of any school division in Virginia, TimesDispatch.com wrote. It found the district to be among the highest in the country for suspensions involving black students with disabilities.
"Needless to say, we are deeply disappointed and remain very concerned," state Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, and Varina District Supervisor Tyrone E. Nelson said in a letter to Henrico Superintendent Patrick Russo.
“The numbers are startling…37 percent of our population are African-Americans and 75 percent of the suspensions are African-Americans” said Nelson. "We would ask you to please explain why African-American students seem to be punished disproportionately and what you plan to do to address this situation.”
The 2012 study, "Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School," found that around 92 percent of Black male students with disabilities and over 58 percent of Black female students with disabilities had been suspended in Henrico one or more times in 2009-2010.
This compares to the 44 percent of White males and 18 percent of White females with disabilities that were suspended within the same time period.
Superintendent Russo did acknowledge the greatly skewed number of suspensions, saying that huge efforts have been made in the past four years to find other ways to discipline students. However, despite the total number of suspensions decreasing for Black students, as well as the entire study body, Black students still accounted for 75 percent of suspensions in the 2011 school year, up from 72 percent four years earlier.
"We're making some progress," he stated. "It's not what we want."
Ravelle Worthington is a writer living in New York. Follow her on Twitter @ravmo.