LAKEWOOD RANCH — Manatee County Public Schools officials are standing by Superintendent Tim McGonegal’s decision to remove four students from Lakewood Ranch High School for making and throwing acid bombs earlier this summer.
According to a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office report dated June 8, several teenage boys constructed the devices and planted one in a mailbox in River Club.
Parents of the four teenagers involved said the boys threw the devices in five or six yards over a two-night period. The boys were friends with students living in the targeted homes.
Parents and friends said the incident, although foolish, was not malicious in intent when they testified on the boys’ behalf at the Manatee County School Board’s meeting Aug. 24.
However, McGonegal exercised the authority spelled out in the district’s Policies and Procedures Section 5.7, which allows the superintendent to reassign students “as deemed to be in the best interest of the student or school district.” The four boys were reassigned from Lakewood Ranch to Horizons Academy.
“I think this is the right thing to do,” McGonegal said. “These four kids are so lucky nobody was injured in this.”
McGonegal said one of the homes the boys targeted is considered a victim under the district’s bullying policy, and he defended the decision to remove the students from Lakewood’s campus — a decision that underwent extensive review by McGonegal and other leaders within the district.
“They’re not bad students; they’re not bad kids,” McGonegal said. “We just disagree (with their parents) what their consequences should be for their actions.”
The boys have since enrolled in private school and entered into a voluntary program with the State Attorney’s Office. They will not face prosecution.
The families of the boys say they do not know what their next course of action will be but are frustrated the district notified them of the change only one week before the start of classes.
“These are good kids,” said Sue Morse, the mother of one of the boys. “It’s just totally unfair what happened. It was like a nightmare. No due process. The kids did this terrible, stupid prank the first week of summer. There was no way we were going to send any of these kids to (Horizons).
“They had no intentions of hurting anybody,” she said. “They were noise bombs they threw in the lawn. It was a 16-year-old prank. The kids certainly understood they did something wrong.”
Kelly Pleasant, who worked with Young Life East Manatee and is a neighbor to several of the boys, said she has known three of the boys since they were in middle school.
“In most cases, if you get some boys together, they can make some bad choices, and I think this is one of those cases,” Pleasant said. “I realize they should be punished. They don’t have any previous record of any kind. Removing them from their friends and things seems harsh for an entire year. (These boys) are polite, respectful. They aren’t a threat to society.”
Several of the boys are involved in community service projects, at least two were on the football team and at least two were involved in the JROTC program, Pleasant said.
Mike McCann, supervisor of alternative programs for the district, said he first heard of the incident from a teacher in July and later was able to verify it the first week of August. McCann said he gathered information and took it to a committee who decided how to proceed.
“Because of concern for the victim, the committee felt it needed to go forward,” McCann said.
McCann and district spokesperson Margi Nanney noted several incidents where students in other areas have set off acid bombs and caused injury to other individuals, whether intentional or not. The information was a contributing factor in McGonegal’s decision to remove the students from Lakewood.
“If you think about a person’s behavior, no matter where they do it, they still did it,” Nanney said. “It could compromise the safety of our students or staff in other settings.”
McCann said the reassignment procedure was set into place about three years ago after a student from Southeast High School raped another student at the school over holiday break. The student was charged as an adult, and because he had posted bond, was on campus when the victim returned to school, McCann said.
School board member Harry Kinnan said he sympathized with the families involved with the acid bomb incident.
“These are fine young people,” he said. “I’m sorry this has played out the way it has been. My hope is we can move past this.”
District attorney John Bowen said there is no process by which parents can appeal the decision to remove the students.
Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected].
CODE OF CONDUCT
The student code of conduct specifies students who are involved in making a bomb, planning for a bomb or making threats of a bomb for use at school or at a school activity will be suspended for 10 days, recommended for expulsion and reported to law enforcement for prosecution.