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Some students in Ola HS food fight suspended for rest of school year | News

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Some students in Ola HS food fight suspended for rest of school year

McDONOUGH, Ga. -- At least nine of the Ola High School students involved in the so-called food fight Friday were suspended Wednesday for the rest of the school year.

They are also facing prosecution on a misdemeanor charge of "disruption of public school."  Initally there were facing a felony "inciting a riot" charge, but it was dropped.

No one from the school system would comment Wednesday.

Some of the students and their parents did comment, complaining that the school's punishment was too severe for the offense.

"I'm outraged," said one of the students, Devon Graziani, following the school tribunal hearing.  "I've lost all respect for the school and the administration here.  And I think they've made a big mistake for themselves.... I was just having fun, I wasn't a criminal."

"He has never been called to the principal's office before," said Devon's father, Mike Graziani.  "He got caught up in a food fight mistake, and now he's getting the hammer."

"I know it sounds bad that I disobeyed," said another student, Paul Blackburn, "but I was just having fun.  I didn't know I could get in trouble for having fun.  I mean, I didn't know I could get in this much trouble for having fun."

"It's just unbelievable," said Paul's mother, Felicia Lowe.  "As a parent, I don't take away from the fact that he's responsible for what he did of tossing a milk carton.  But I totally disagree with how the school has responded.  I just never thought in my wildest dreams that they would go as far as... suspend all these kids for the remainder of the school year." 

Others who say they were in the cafeteria are describing a dangerous riot, not a "food fight," and they agree with the punishments the students received.

School administrators learned of plans for the food fight and warned students over the intercom not to participate or they would face serious punishment.

An attorney representing at least one of the students said Wednesday he will appeal the suspensions and try to get the misdemeanor charge dropped.

"There were more than 100 participants, based on the video that I, myself, viewed prior to the hearing," said the attorney, E. Gilmore Maxwell.  "And they've chosen to go after 11 or 12 of those individuals, wanting to make a point, but otherwise ignoring all the other participants."

"These are 17, 16, 15 year old kids, and this was a prank," said another parent, Mark Striplin.  "They didn't mean any maliciousness, there was no malice in this in throwing food.  They didn't go in there to harm people, it was a harmless prank."

The school is not releasing the video of the incident to the public.

Mark Striplin's 17-year-old daughter, Courtney, was cuffed and taken to jail.

"I do not condone what Courtney did," Striplin said.  "I believe she should have been suspended for what happened, but to take her to jail and charge her with a crime, that's just too much."

After the incident Friday, four students who are juveniles were released to the custody of their parents while five others were booked into jail. 

The full charges on each of the five others are as follows:

* Courtney Striplin, 17 (charged with disruption of public school);

* Devon Graziani, 17 (charged with disruption of public school);

* Jimmy Dobson, 17 (charged with disruption of public school);

* Nathan Brunnert, 17 (charged with disruption of public school, failure to disperse);

* Whitney Camp, 18 (charged with obstruction, possession of marijuana, disruption of public school).

Investigators said the students had apparently been planning a food fight for days. School officials found out about the planned disturbance and told the students not to go through with their plans. The students pushed forward with the food fight anyway.

Henry County Sheriff's officials said their investigators were going over the surveillance video footage to determine if any other students involved in the disturbance could be identified.

Henry County Schools spokesman J.D. Hardin said Monday the administration stands by the actions of the school resource officer who works for the Sheriff's Office.

"If these kids had started a food fight in a restaurant, they would face the same sort of charges.  They were warned there would be consequences if they took part in it," Hardin said.

Initially, all the students arrested were also charged with inciting a riot -- that felony charge has since been dropped on all of the defendants.