Herndon High student suspended for prank banned from graduation ceremony

A Herndon High School student suspended for a senior prank is banned from his Thursday graduation and will not cross the stage to collect his diploma, according to a decision late Wednesday by the Fairfax County school system’s hearings office.

Chris Shoemaker, 18, was one of six teenagers involved in a June 6 prank that left baby oil in several school hallways and stairway landings. The teens said they did not intend to hurt anyone and had imagined only a comical slip-and-slide. They were caught quickly, and no one was injured.

Shoemaker was suspended for seven days and told that he could not participate in Herndon’s graduation ceremonies — a punishment more severe than that given to three of the six teenagers involved, students said.

He appealed, asking that the consequences be the same for all six and saying he would do community service or school cleanup — “anything other than not letting us walk” across the stage. “LetTheBoysWalk2012” became a Twitter refrain and a T-shirt slogan among his classmates at Herndon.

The school system’s ruling, announced in an e-mail, upheld the decision of Herndon Principal William Bates to continue Shoemaker’s suspension until Friday, when graduation is over, Shoemaker’s family said.


“I felt like it was four on one and I was fighting a losing battle the whole time,” Chris Shoemaker said of his appeal hearing. (Tracy A. Woodward/THE WASHINGTON POST)

“I’m disappointed, but it’s what we expected,” Shoemaker said Wednesday evening, unsure how he and his family would spend the hours that might have been the grand finale of his high school years. “I wish it had gone my way, but it didn’t.”

The teen admitted that he brought baby oil to school but said he had second thoughts about the prank when a teacher admonished the seniors involved as one teen squirted oil on the floor. He said that he never poured any oil and that he headed to class, where he was pulled out for questioning shortly afterward.

On Wednesday morning, the family brought the case to a 90-minute appeal hearing led by the school system’s top hearing officer, Dana Scanlan. The teen left the proceeding sensing that there was little hope.

“I felt like it was four on one and I was fighting a losing battle the whole time,” said Shoemaker, 18, an honor student and varsity basketball player who completed 11 Advanced Placement courses in high school and had no disciplinary problems.

Ashkan Naderi, 18, who will also miss graduation because of the prank, said he was disappointed but trying to move on. “They made a mistake by overpunishing us, but we tried our best,” he said late Wednesday.

The case comes as Fairfax County continues to examine its discipline policies, with the School Board studying such issues as whether parents should be notified before students are questioned or asked to write out statements of confession.

Coincidentally, with the Herndon prank, a dispute arose about what was said during Shoemaker’s questioning. Shoemaker said that he used the word “we” loosely and that a security administrator concluded that he had poured the oil. Shoemaker said that he objected but that the administrator added a signed notation to the student's written statement, alleging that he had made the admission.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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