LEWISTON — Fifteen Lewiston High School seniors were suspended for two days earlier this month for an incident that school officials say created an unsafe situation on a stairwell during the school day and put other students in jeopardy.
Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said Monday that students participated in a "senior block," an annual prank where a group of seniors block a space and prevent other students from passing. This year it was done on a stairwell.
"We had students crying in the hallway and the office because they could not get to class on time. There is a process if you don't get to your class on time, you are late," Webster said. Seniors may have enjoyed the prank, but there are consequences, he said.
"A student block, while perhaps in years gone by was a very fun senior prank, in recent years this has never taken place where it hasn't been met with a suspension," Webster said. "We take seriously the health and safety of students. We also now have a camera system on our stairwell where we can see. Anyone who can think about what happened at Bates College just a week before this would take this seriously."
Principal Gus LeBlanc agreed the senior block is considered an annual tradition, that it was not intended to be malicious, but the action was potentially dangerous, and seniors knew it was not acceptable.
"Use your imagination. You know what just happened at Bates," he said referring to the death of 18-year-old Bates College freshman Troy Pappas, who died after falling down a stairwell on that college's Lewiston campus.
Students have been warned in past years not to create an unsafe situation on the stairs, and some have been suspended for it, LeBlanc said. This year the seniors were originally suspended for three days, then the suspensions were reduced to two days so seniors could take the SATs at school the Saturday in between.
"I would not have let that happen," LeBlanc said. "That's one of the reasons I reduced the suspension," he said.
Teresa Austin, a relative of one of the students suspended, said Monday, "I remember senior block. I had three sons" who experienced it, she said. Teachers used to break up the senior blocks.
Parents of the seniors are concerned that the suspensions may have an effect on their college careers. Students may have to disclose on college applications that they have been suspended. "This can be detrimental," Austin said. "These are good kids." The punishment, Austin said, was too severe. They should have received detentions, but not suspensions, she said.
"We hate to do it," Webster said. "Yes, many of these are great students." Some college applications do ask if an applicant has ever been suspended, Webster acknowledged. Some students may have to explain what happened. "This is part of life's growing experiences. Colleges aren't expecting that students have perfect records. What they are expecting is that students demonstrate they've learned from their experiences."
LeBlanc said he has met with four parents who were unhappy that their children were suspended for the incident. The students have served their suspensions and are back in school.