KELLER -- About 50 students and parents from Keller Central High School made a last-ditch attempt Friday to overturn the banning of eight seniors from today's graduation ceremony, gathering for a protest at the administration building. Parents of several students were also filing formal appeals.
But it will likely make no difference. "It sounds like we're going to be too late to accomplish anything," said Darla Hardy, mother of one of the students.
In a statement Friday, Keller school district officials said two families have officially filed appeals with central administrators asking that the punishment be reversed. However, the soonest those appeals could be heard is Monday. Officials said that timeline had been explained to the families and their supporters.
Eight students are banned from Central's ceremony and four from Timber Creek High School's because of senior pranks that went too far.
At Central on May 25, hundreds of students participated in a food fight in which water bottles and eggs were thrown. That same day at Timber Creek, some students released rats, crickets, birds and snakes, set off stink bombs and threw balloons filled with baby oil. Fort Worth police were called to both schools.
The district had said that 10 Central seniors were banned. But one student had not met all the graduation requirements and wouldn't have walked anyway, officials said, and another, who was seen holding an egg during the melee, was allowed to participate because no one saw him throw it.
On May 23, Keller High seniors staged a mock battle that included toy weapons, water balloons and bags of flour. None of those seniors were banned from graduation, but the district imposed restrictions on some, as well as on other students from Central and Timber Creek. Those students can participate in graduation but must be accompanied to the Fort Worth Convention Center by parents, separated from peers before the event and monitored during festivities.
District officials said some seniors received harsher punishment because campus staff saw them participating "in creating an unsafe environment through reckless disregard for the safety of their fellow students."
Martin Alvarez, one of those banned at Central, denied participating in the food fight but said a teacher told officials he did. Alvarez said he was standing near a big group of students at the time.
"There's no video evidence, no proof of any of that," Alvarez said. "I was just standing back observing, trying to dodge it all."
Randal Grizzle, also banned, said students were first told that officials would rely on video evidence and later told that officials would also use information from staff members who could identify participants.
Vidi Martinez, whose son was banned from Central's graduation, said he denies participating in the food fight. She said that he was watching the events unfold and that there is no video evidence of his participation. "He's being accused of doing something he didn't do," she said.
Brad Wilburn, a Central dad, said his son and some friends were considering not participating in graduation as a sign of support for the banned students. On Twitter, some students put out a call for the Friday protest and urged seniors to show their opposition by not shaking the hands of administrators as graduates receive their diplomas.
Jayson Steele, a former Southlake police officer, said that he has known Martin Alvarez for years and that the allegations don't jibe with the sort of young man he is.
But even if he took part, the punishment does not fit the crime, Steele said. He wrote school board members to try to reverse the ban, calling it retribution, not justice.
"This kid Martin is a good student and a good athlete who reads to fourth-graders as a reading buddy," Steele said. "And they're chopping his head off for what he's accused of doing without any proof?"
Staff writer Eva-Marie Ayala contributed to this report.