From left, seniors Matthew Tacktill, Ryan and Nick Starkman, Taylor...

From left, seniors Matthew Tacktill, Ryan and Nick Starkman, Taylor DeStefani and Melissa Erul of East Rockaway High School, stand across from their school after learning that school officials say they cannot march in their graduation because of their participation in a water-balloon fight that was off campus and after school. (May 27, 2011) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Parents of a group of East Rockaway High School seniors banned from the senior prom and graduation ceremony for their participation in a water balloon fight made last-minute pleas Tuesday for administrators to rescind the ban.

The ban by district Superintendent Roseanne Melucci stood late in the day, parents said. But according to the parents who met with administrators one-on-one, the school board was expected to meet in closed session Tuesday night to consider the issue. About 50 students took part in the water balloon fight, but school officials would not say how many were affected by the ban.

"Basically [administrators] said this is the consequence for their actions," said Lori DeStefani, mother of senior Taylor DeStefani, 17, who was banned.

"We made an appeal to the superintendent, and she treated us unfairly," said Chris Galligan of East Rockaway, father of Tommy Galligan, 17, who will graduate with honors, but won't be able to participate in prom or commencement.

"The punishment doesn't fit the offense," said Galligan's wife, Patrice, wiping her eyes. "I'm heartbroken. From when he was a little boy, I've waited for this."

The annual balloon battle took place across the street from the school June 14. According to an email statement from Melucci, two high school administrators, a crossing guard and uninvolved "defenseless" students were hit as they left school, causing safety and traffic concerns. Several students were told to stop and refused, she said.

Melucci said in the statement that the students and parents had been warned they might be banned from graduation, the prom and other activities if they engaged in "disruptive acts."

Janet Matthews, who is now retired but taught in East Rockaway schools for 27 years, shook her head as she talked about the ban. "They're a bunch of great kids and they shouldn't be punished like this," said Matthews, who added that she has known most of the seniors since they were in grade school. "The punishment is too harsh. Everybody deserves a second chance."

With William Murphy

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