PALM SPRINGS — Sixteen seniors have been suspended and denied graduation privileges for allegedly scrawling racial slurs and stringing up a dead cat at Palm Springs High School.
Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime, which is a felony, Officer Pete Rode said Wednesday. Racial epithets apparently were directed at Principal Ricky Wright, who is black.
Besides "Class of 2000" writings on windows, swastikas were drawn with white shoe polish. Animal feces and ketchup were thrown at the building and gasoline was poured on the lawn outside the 1,286-student campus.
School and district officials believe that Monday's vandalism and slurs were directed at Wright.
"This clearly exceeded what one might call a senior prank," said William Diedrich, superintendent of the Palm Springs Unified School District.
The students will graduate, but they cannot participate in graduation ceremonies or attend events like the Disneyland all-night party, a tradition for graduating high school students in Southern California.
"I'm disappointed. The only thing that keeps me halfway positive is that I know that's not the feeling of most kids at my school," Wright said.
Two Mount San Jacinto High School students also were believed to have been involved in the vandalism, Wright said.
"It's a senior prank that went awry," Rode said, adding that the students were not troublemakers and all were good students. "Probably two people were involved in the hate crime aspect of this."
All the students, who Rode said were of various races, were under 18 and their names weren't disclosed.
"It's a calm school [racially]. The principal of the school just wishes that the ones involved would apologize. He's not looking for any vengeance," Rode said.
Police detectives were interviewing the students to determine the extent of their alleged role in the incident. No one witnessed the vandalism and police were still trying to determine who was responsible, Sgt. Patrick Williams said.
"One student admitted to finding the dead cat in the road and hanging it [from the bell tower] because he thought it was funny, Officer William Hutchinson said.
Wright said the incident shouldn't reflect poorly on other students.
"There are 390 seniors who didn't accept the call to come over and participate in the prank," the principal said. "They chose not to get involved, and I want to praise them. Don't let the actions of the few cloud the whole group.
"They are a good bunch of kids."