By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
HOWELL – Two ninth-grade students who painted an anti-gay message on a rock in Howell High School’s courtyard have been suspended for at least 10 days and might face criminal prosecution, the school district said May 19.
Meanwhile, three seniors who responded by painting “love” over the message – and elsewhere on school grounds – were suspended May 18 for the rest of the school year. Initially, they had been suspended for 10 days.
On May 8, the three seniors and a sophomore used spray paint to cover the words “God hates fags” scrawled on a rock near the high school entrance. The sophomore also was suspended for 10 days. In addition to painting over the hate message on the rock, they also spray-painted the word “love” more than 25 times around the flagpole and more than 25 times on sidewalks on the north side of the building.
According to a report by Press & Argus, the two freshmen were suspended because “the anti-gay message allegedly painted … violated the school district’s code of conduct regarding hate literature.”
As for the other students, “We celebrate the fact that they chose to paint over a hate message on that rock,” superintendent W. Charles Breiner said. The students who sprayed the word “love” were suspended because they painted other school property as well.
The father of one of the students told the Press & Argus that the cost of removing the graffiti came to $1,392, which he expects the students will have to pay themselves.
“We’re still incredibly disappointed in the anti-gay vandalism that took place on the rock,” said Sean Kosofsky, director of policy for the Triangle Foundation. “We don’t support vandalism of any kind, but we applaud the students [who spray-painted the word “love”] for taking immediate action to spread a message of tolerance on campus.”
Howell Public Schools’ code of conduct provides penalties for any “student who possesses, publishes or distributes printed material to engage in sexism, racism or other acts of hate,” the Press & Argus reported.
The case is referred to the district’s central office for possible long-term suspension or expulsion of the freshmen who painted the hate message. According to the Press & Argus, the school district has filed a police report about the hate message, and a district spokesperson said that the district will pursue prosecution.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.