2 seniors barred from graduation ceremony after racist prank

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by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on June 18, 2010 at 11:36 PM

Updated Friday, Jun 18 at 11:36 PM

AUBURN, Wash. - A prank at an Auburn high school leads to two seniors banned from Saturday's graduation ceremony, as well as another student arrested, accused of assaulting a school security guard.

"If I did offend anybody, then I apologize," said Andrew Carel, 18.

An apology may not be enough to let Carel and his friend Kyle off the hook after the prank they pulled Friday morning at Auburn-Riverside High School.

"We bought the bananas," Carel said, "got about 3 feet of fishing line, and the tied them up on the balcony."

And why string up bananas in that particular location? Carel said students it's because of the nickname that stairwell has received for the black students who gather there.

"They all hang out under the stairs," he said, "and we just call it "The Jungle" because... that's what even the black people call it too."

Carel, who is white, said the prank was meant to be a humorous exchange between friends of both races who routinely crack off-color jokes at each other. Carel said he was not the one who thought up the prank, but was one of the two students who put it into action.

Several of his friends said they believe administrators went too far to suspend them, and have even painted variations of "Let Kyle and Andrew Walk" on their vehicles.

"It wasn't meant to hurt people," said one girl, who asked to remain nameless. "I look at Andrew, and he worked his butt off to be able walk for his family, and to take that away is harsh."

"It didn't seem like too big a deal, because everyone seemed to take it as a joke," Carel said.

But not everyone was amused.

"Stuff like that with the bananas and everything, I don't think it's cool," said Teryn Henrichs, a freshman. "It's just messed up."

Teryn said he wasn't the only one upset by the display, which hung prominently just inside the school's main entrance.

"I see a... crowd of people," he said, "and I see the black people over here and the white section over here, and they're going back and forth, like mad... flipping each other off."

Auburn Police said that's when a school security guard attempted to quell the tension by escorting one of the black students to the office.

Police said when the security guard, who is not a police department school resource officer, placed his hand on the student's back to guide the student, the student allegedly assaulted the guard.

Officers were called and arrested the student for assault.

"The incident was very incendiary," said Auburn Schools Superintendent Kip Herron. "Students really took offense to it.  That in a nutshell is the reason the principal had to intervene."

"What you described to me is a pretty derogatory, inflammatory thing to do," he added. "Pranks go overboard and they become hazing and very disruptive."

"A short-term suspension is generally what needs to happen for cooling off a period of time, if there has been harm or injury," Herron said. "And with the [graduation] coming so closely to incident... I think the principal is trying to maintain order."

Carel said he was escorted to the school office in fifth period, and given his punishment: He and Kyle are suspended, effectively barring them from attending the ceremony.

District officials said their parents still have until the ceremony to appeal the principal's decision. Carel, who said he crammed a year and a half worth of credits into his senior year, just so he could graduate with his friends, hopes he can still join them. Even if he and Kyle don't, they will still receive diplomas for completing their coursework.

"I just got caught up in the moment and wanted to do something funny, and in the end it didn't really work out too well," he said.  "Walking to my graduation is like once in a lifetime thing, and it just hurts not to be able to walk."

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