CLEARWATER - Clearwater High School's graduating class has long anticipated the end of this school year. Graduation day seemed an eternity away when the Class of 2006 began their high school careers four years ago, but the reality of graduation hit home this year, with most students planning for college and other post-high school education. Seniors also had a daily reminder in the Senior cafeteria - a poster announcing the remaining number of school days before graduation.
The last week of school became a celebration of four great years at CHS. Senior activities included a breakfast, sports banquet, talent show, yearbook signing, and the academic awards event also reported in this week's Gazette.
Thursday, May 11, was the last day of classes and, for many Seniors who were exempt from final exams, the last day of High School. The countdown of days became hours, then minutes as about 50 soon-to-be graduates gathered in the Senior wing, signing yearbooks and yelling class cheers. As the final bell sounded, more students filled the hallways, adding to the noise and congestion.
But the celebration came to a premature end, as Police Officers from Clearwater's bicycle patrol attempted to disperse the crowd. Students reported that the officers ordered them to leave the school grounds, one of the officers brandishing handcuffs and making comments about "not walking" (walking is a term for receiving a diploma at the graduation ceremony). One of the students contributed to the confrontation, throwing a water balloon that hit one of the officers.
The bicycle officers had been provided by CPD at the request of CHS Principal Nick Grasso. "On the last day of school, we always have additional visibility with police and school staff, a preventive measure against senior pranks," Grasso said. But curiously, two Clearwater Police Officers most familiar with CHS and its students, the School Resource Officers, were not present during the confrontation. One was elsewhere on the campus, and the other was away at a training exercise according to CPD spokesperson Wayne Shelor.
As some of the students began to disperse, Kathy Biddle, a history teacher and CHS Athletic Coordinator, intervened. Biddle said that several students asked for her help during the confrontation; they wanted to remain on campus and continue to sign yearbooks. Acting quickly, she called principal Grasso on her radio, and got his agreement. Biddle defused the situation, directing the Police Officers to leave, and allowing the remaining students to continue their yearbook signing under her supervision.
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