Some parents are questioning a decision to suspend students involved in a high school water balloon fight this month.
On Jan. 8 Orange County sheriff’s deputies responded to a call at Cedar Ridge High School.
“The school system had an altercation,” Sheriff Charles Blackwood said. “We responded.”
“It was a water balloon fight,” he said. “It was a big one … yes, but it was a water balloon fight.”
In an email to parents, Principal Heather Blackmon said she warned students the day of the planned fight not to carry it out.
“I made an announcement over the intercom that warned students that if we saw water balloons being thrown, the perpetrators would be suspended for five days and would have to take their exams on teacher work days,” Blackmon wrote.
“However, we had several students who clearly disregarded my message, and numerous water balloons were thrown inside the cafeteria toward the end of lunch,” Blackmon reported. She called the water balloon fight “a major safety concern for our administrators and teachers.”
Rebeka Hardee, a 2013 Cedar Ridge graduate, found the school’s response baffling.
“The seniors have been doing this since at least 2011,” she said. “I can distinctly remember standing between Principal Wheeler and the school resource officer as they watched on. All the principal would say is that we needed to clean up the balloons when we were done, and we always did.”
Hardee said teachers even let students store water balloons in their classrooms before the event.
That appears to have happened in the Jan. 8 incident when reportedly hundreds of water balloons were stored all over the school.
According to several students present, the cafeteria was packed, with Blackmon, the assistant principals, school resource officer Chris Sykes and several teachers present.
At the end of the lunch period, balloons started being tossed.
It was a big one … yes, but it was a water balloon fight.
Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood
According to a student who was there, students were screaming, laughing and dodging water balloons, while the principal and teachers were standing on tables yelling at them to stop. She said it went on for about five minutes and then the bell rang.
Freshman Jonathan Walker said he was handed a water balloon and threw it in the air.
“I saw water balloons being thrown everywhere, principals and teachers standing on tables and a couple of teachers and a principal pushing students aside to get to the water balloons,” Walker said.
“When I threw mine in the air, a teacher grabbed and yanked me back and had another teacher take me to the office. I was there with six or seven other students.”
Walker said they all filled out statements, talked to Blackmon and were sent back to class.
“The next Monday I ... was told I was suspended for five days,” Walker said. “I don’t know what I am going to do. I am an A-B student and am on the football and wrestling team and working on a football scholarship.
“I just don’t understand. Last year or the year before that there was a water balloon fight and everything was fine.”
Nine student received suspensions. Six students received out of school suspension and three received in-school suspension. One of the students was suspended for having water balloons in his truck, although he did not participate in the water balloon fight in the cafeteria.
According to the Orange County Schools Student Code of Conduct, Rule 9, disrespect and noncompliance with directives from principals, teachers and other school personnel can lead to in- or out-of-school suspension.
Still, some parents think the school overreacted.
“The water balloon fight has been a tradition at this school for as far back as I can remember, and no one has ever heard any rules against it,” sad Cedar Ridge High father and attorney Ron Cooley.
“These five-day suspensions will go in the student’s permanent records and will have an impact on college admissions and scholarships … even ones that are already approved,” he said.
Cooley said his daughter was not in the investigation and was not in the cafeteria at that time.
“This event was approved by assistant principals and other teachers who helped in the preparations of this event,” he said. “The absurdity of this is beyond the pale of reason.”
Cedar Ridge mother Teresa Fowler said she contacted Blackmon on behalf of the student on the wrestling team that was suspended for having balloons in his truck, but said Blackmon said she could not comment on the student.
“I think the whole thing was an overreaction for the school administration to suspend all of these students, Cooley said.
Blackmon and Superintendent Todd Wirt declined to comment for this story,
Sykes said, “I have been told that I am not allowed to say anything on the matter.”
“I know when I was in school, there was senior day, spirit day and senior pranks, but if teachers put parameters on those events then the students need to follow them,” said Sheriff Blackwood.
“But I think they could have and should have handled this whole thing differently,” he said.