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Students involved in brawl at Athens High won't walk at graduation

WAAY 31 spoke with the two students about their disappointment.

Posted: May 23, 2019 7:46 PM
Updated: May 23, 2019 9:16 PM

Athens High School will have their graduation ceremony Thursday night, but two seniors are upset they won’t get to participate with their classmates.

After Gabby Kirby and Makaleb Boykin were involved in a brawl at the high school back in April, school officials told them they wouldn’t be allowed to walk at the ceremony.

On behalf of Kirby and Boykin, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a suit against the school district and asked for an expedited hearing, but the judge refused to hear their case.

WAAY 31 spoke with the two students about their disappointment.

“You go to school, of course, for twelve or thirteen years and that’s what you look forward to," Gabby Kirby said.

That's what Gabby Kirby said about graduation. It’s something Gabby said she never thought she’d have to miss.

“I was really excited to make my mom proud," she said. "To get to do something that my mom and dad haven’t gotten to do."

But, after an incident at Athens High School that ended with Gabby and her cousin, Makaleb, in handcuffs, attending their graduation ceremony was no longer an option.

“I feel like they just snatched away a memory that I can’t have," Makaleb Boykin said. "I have a twin brother that I won’t be able to walk with today.”

Both students told WAAY 31 they feel like the punishment they received was extreme and unfair.

And that’s why the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Athens City School District.

The complaint states the school district lacks sufficient evidence to prove the students violated the code of conduct.

Both Gabby and Makaleb, along with their attorneys, sat at the Limestone County Courthouse all day on Thursday, in hopes of seeing a judge who could potentially grant them the opportunity to walk at graduation. But the judge never saw them.

Because of this, Gabby and Makaleb have decided to host their own graduation ceremony.

“We want it to be an opportunity for students who haven’t gotten to walk to come and walk with us, so they won’t miss out on graduation," Makaleb said.

Both students told WAAY 31 that they’ll be moving forward from this, no matter what.

“I’m still going to further my education, because, obviously, that’s what you need to get somewhere in life," Gabby said. "So, I’m going to do that and just move on.”

Gabby and Makaleb's graduation ceremony will be held on Friday at Freshwind Christian Fellowship on Lucas Ferry Road in Athens. It will start at 7:00 p.m. and the public is invited to attend.

Michael Tafelski, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, provided the following statement:

“It’s disappointing that the judge assigned to the cases did not have enough time to hear them today and provide the immediate, simple remedy our clients deserve in advance of Athens High School’s graduation tonight: the permission to attend and walk in celebration of their milestone accomplishment. We are proud to stand with our clients, and they have demonstrated courage through this difficult time. We will continue to advocate for our clients and other children across Alabama and the South who experience injustice.

“The students and their families, friends, and community members will attend a public community graduation ceremony, open to media, tomorrow May 24 at Freshwind Christian Fellowship at seven o’clock in the evening. While it’s not the graduation the students intended on attending at the beginning of this school year, it will show the strength of the Athens community and recognize the students’ achievements.”

“Moving forward to the 2019-2020 school year, Athens City Schools and the Athens Police Department should ensure police officers working in the city’s schools have specialized training to work with youth and in schools, focus on de-escalation over escalation, and better define the role of officers in schools. Moreover, the school system should take a long and hard look at its disciplinary practices, which students are being disciplined and why, and commit to decrease the racial disparities that exist – especially for overly harsh and punitive responses to misbehavior. Nationally, students of color routinely receive harsher disciplinary measures for the same offenses their white peers are accused of; Athens must be better.”

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