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Chapel Hill students could have been suspended. Instead they cleaned up and apologized.

School officials contacted Tuesday said they could not confirm details of the May 23 incident at East Chapel Hill High School.
School officials contacted Tuesday said they could not confirm details of the May 23 incident at East Chapel Hill High School. ABC11

School administrators won’t say what happened outside East Chapel Hill High School the night of May 23, but what happened afterward shows how they’re dealing with the incident.

According to a tip sent to The News & Observer, approximately half of the graduating senior class attended a camp-out on school grounds, invited by email and Facebook. The anonymous tip said police arrived around 3 a.m. and gave students breathalyzer tests.

The tipster said underage students were drunk, some were smoking marijuana and one student was taken to the hospital.

School officials contacted Tuesday said they could not confirm details of the incident and referred a reporter to the Chapel Hill Police Department. A police spokesman said he would look for a report on the incident at the school but did not know if one had been filed.

“This was not a school-sponsored event,” Principal Ken Proulx said in a May 24 email to seniors and parents. “We were not aware that this was going to take place.”

Proulx held a school assembly for the seniors the following week and had a conversation with them about the event, said Jeff Nash, spokesman for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

“Our objective is always to help students learn and sometimes that means learning from mistakes,” said Proulx. “Rather than dishing out harsh punishments, we chose a restorative approach. Each student was given an opportunity to own his or her mistake, and to make it right.”

No students were suspended, but two restorative practices were enforced.

Nash said Proulx told the students they could help with a community service project to clean up from the camp-out and write a letter of apology.

“Restorative practices are something we have had training in our district for,” Nash said. “We want to move in this direction and help students grow from their mistakes instead of punishment. To some people, community service is a punishment but hopefully, it is more than that and it becomes an opportunity to learn from their actions.”

Over 170 students signed up to help pick up garbage, put down mulch and make the campus beautiful again, Nash said.

Students could write their apology to whoever they wanted, including a teacher, administrator, parent or police officer.

James Berish pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon afflicting serious injury and possession of a stolen fire arm. It is the first violent felony case in the the state to proceed through a restorative justice program pre-trial,

The CHCCS policy manual states that, for non-school-related substance abuse or possession offenses, students’ parents or guardians will be notified and that action will be taken by the school.

“Clearly if you wanted to take an old school policy, you could suspend students,” Nash said. “But we think (Proulx) chose a good route here and the students and parents seem to be pleased with it.”

Nash said five parents complained to the principal about the punishments but understood the school’s actions after talking with Proulx individually.

East Chapel Hill High School graduation is 9 a.m. Saturday at the Dean Smith Center at UNC, and all students involved will be allowed to walk at the ceremony.

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