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Parents: School denied LWR students due process with reassignment

MANATEE — Last June, four teens from Lakewood Ranch High School tossed small explosive devices into several River Club yards over a two-night period.

One of the devices damaged a mailbox, but there were no injuries and no other property damage.

One of the homeowners filed a complaint with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, and an investigation was launched.

None of the students was arrested and the state attorney’s office never filed charges.

A week before the start of school, the four families received letters from the Manatee County School District informing them that the teens could not return to Lakewood Ranch High School and were being reassigned to Horizons Academy.

The families said the letter was the first time that any of them had heard from the school district about the off-campus incident during summer break.

While they agree it was a regrettable teen prank, they believe the school district response was excessive considering no one was arrested and no felony charges were filed.

Charlie Morse, the father of one of the teens, said Monday the “boys were being boys and made a noise device.”

The devices were thrown into the yards of five or six acquaintances, he said.

Morse said he initially learned about the incident when another parent came to his house at 2:30 a.m. in June and said a deputy had just left her house.

Several of the parents said they punished their sons for their roles in the incident, and they agree that their teens were wrong and made a mistake.

But they say they were shocked when the Friday before school resumed, two of the boys were escorted off school property at Lakewood Ranch High School after football practice.

“This was the first we heard from the school at all,” Morse said.

The next day, Saturday, the families each received a letter from the district informing them that their children had been reassigned to Horizons Academy, Morse said.

The letter also advised that if the students ventured back onto school property, other than Horizons Academy, they could be arrested, Morse said.

“That gave us five days to find another school,” he said, adding that all the boys are now in private schools.

Last week, several of the parents and family friends appeared before the school board to appeal for reconsideration of the reassignment. School board members heard the request during public comment but took no action.

One of the family friends who appeared before the school board was Kelly Pleasant.

“The four boys are really good kids. They pulled a prank that they shouldn’t have. It was a severe sentence for four kids who are willing to perform community service,” Pleasant said Monday. “Two of them attend our church. The kids really to wanted to help the community. The school board should look at the whole picture to see what the boys are like. The parents are there to help the kids learn from their mistakes and make better choices.”

Sue Morse, the mother of one of the boys, told the school board that what the boys did “was a stupid prank the first week of summer.

“They threw noise bombs. They had no intention of hurting anyone. They’ve never been in trouble. I feel they’ve been harshly punished,” Sue Morse said.

Margi Nanney, spokeswoman for the school district, said Monday that she can’t talk about any particulars of the case. “It’s all student information. We can’t discuss anything in particular. We are bound by student confidentiality,” she said.

Dave Bristow, spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, said he could not release the names of the students, but he confirmed that none of them had been booked into the juvenile detention facility.

Charlie Morse said the students did not receive due process, and the school district’s response was excessive.

“There have been no arrests or charges and the state attorney is not prosecuting,” Charlie Morse said.

The mother of one of the boys, who asked not to be identified, said all of the students are on the honor roll and all have a reputation as good kids.

“We received this letter — we haven’t received a phone call,” she said.

The Bradenton Herald previously reported that 65 students were reassigned this year before school started under new policies implemented after local students were arrested in killings.

Local law enforcement officers are required to notify school officials of all student arrests within 24 hours.

But that’s just the point, parents of the four Lakewood Ranch teens say. There were no arrests.

“We would like to see that the school board doesn’t have this kind of power,” Charlie Morse said. “What they have done is not right... the power to arbitrarily move a child.”

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916. Natalie Alund contributed to this story.

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