It may be hard to work up sympathy for the guy, but it does appear that the Paulding County School Board upped his punishment because he appealed his case and talked to the media. That ain’t cool, nor is it legal. So sayeth the judge.
From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
A federal judge in Rome on Thursday overruled school officials and said the senior class president at East Paulding High School can attend his graduation ceremony.
Jacob Zimmerman, 17, was among two dozen who faced felony charges for an early-morning spray-painting raid outside the high school. The 22 students and two recent graduates recently accepted a deal offered by prosecutors that gave them pre-trial diversion, 400 hours of community service and fines.
Zimmerman filed a federal lawsuit on Friday after being banned from attending graduation. The Paulding Board of Education made that decision after Zimmerman appealed a school tribunal’s decision to suspend him for the rest of the school year. He had also talked to the news media about how his case had been handled.
On Thursday, at the close of a hearing, U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy granted a preliminary injunction allowing Zimmerman to attend the May 26 ceremony.
Zimmerman, who had hoped to be class valedictorian, plans to attend Georgia Tech in the fall.
In his lawsuit, Zimmerman acknowledged spray-painting a skull and cross bones but left the scene and walked home when other students escalated the event by painting vulgar language on the road and spray-painting school property. When the school suspended Zimmerman for a year, the suit said, he chose to appeal because the tribunal ignored his limited role in the senior prank and his prior exemplary record.
By increasing Zimmerman’s punishment in barring him from participating in graduation, the school board violated his First Amendment right to pursue his appeal, the lawsuit said.
“We felt the school board upped the punishment on Jacob — barring him from graduation — simply because he appealed the decision and talked to the media about it,” Lester Tate, one of the student’s lawyers, said. “We are very gratified he can now participate in the graduation ceremony.”