Letter: School’s reaction to prank was wrong


The community needs to understand why parents are frustrated with South Whidbey High Principal Patton’s actions following the 2024 senior prank.

In mid-April, the students began meeting with Patton to discuss plans. For weeks he laughed, dismissed harmless suggestions and refused to consider alternatives. On Friday, May 10, the students received a text that Patton okayed their idea of toilet papering the school. The following week, students discussed plans with teachers who gave them keycards. On Sunday, May 19, the students staged what Patton considered an insurrection by using toilet paper, Silly String and balloons to decorate halls, a few classrooms and a gym.

On Monday, May 20, Patton suspiciously arrived unusually early at the school, saw the mess and lost his mind. He called Superintendent Moccia and law enforcement, then falsely accused students of acting without permission, trespassing in sensitive areas, vandalism and more. Patton provided photos showing balloons and toilet paper, but no proof of the alleged damages.

However, recordings confirm he and a Sheriff’s deputy detained and threatened 18-year-old students with arrest. Some are students with special needs; this was malicious abuse of vulnerable individuals. Then, Patton canceled several school events, punishing students and families for his failure to be an administrator.

A May 20 Instagram post, instagram.com/p/Csd8Xq8Ofi4, shows a different senior prank gone right. These students made a much bigger mess than South Whidbey’s senior class. This school principal cleaned it up in good humor but cautioned students not to be hurtful or malicious. So, what went wrong at South Whidbey?

The administration refuses to use the protective factors to guide students and openly communicate with families. The Center for the Study of Social Policy published the Youth Thrive framework in 2015. It is a widely recognized practice by state and federal agencies because it keeps children safe, helps youth thrive and strengthens families. In December 2019, I recommended that the school use this framework to collaborate with students and families. The administration refused to listen because they did not care.

As a dad and human services advisor, I use Protective Factors to guide my children and communicate with their peers and other parents. I support youth social-emotional competence and recognize their right to explore interests and opportunities by guiding behavior and setting boundaries, listening to needs and connecting youth and families with resources, monitoring social connections for safety while providing a secure space for self-care. When used wisely, this framework works wonderfully.

During the pandemic, the school administrators had many chances to improve connections with students and families via Protective Factors. They did nothing but enjoy a huge pay increase and focus on their security.

Patton is responsible for school safety, setting rules and overseeing student behaviors at school. It is wrong that Patton gaslighted the students and misled the community. He denied discussing and approving plans. He caused harm to students with developmental disabilities. Moccia defended his unethical actions and lack of accountability.

We know one of the ways students learn is by making mistakes. What the administration did was far worse. Patton needs to apologize or resign, or there will be legal consequences for him and the school administration.

Jeremiah Donier