Hundreds of students packed the Eden Prairie High School cafeteria Thursday morning, some banging red plastic cups and chanting, "Walkout, walkout," in protest of disciplinary action taken against students who appeared to be drinking in photos posted on the Internet.
Junior Nick Laurent, who organized the event on the very website where those compromising pictures originated -- Facebook -- said about 20 students walked out around 9:30 a.m. despite warnings that they faced detention or suspension.
"This has made an impression," Laurent said of the rally and walkout. "We shook the school today."
That defiance could also leave an impression elsewhere -- on their school records.
District spokeswoman Camie Melton Hanily said the protesters who walked out face four to six days of after-school detention, one day of in-school suspension or revocation of their privileges to leave campus.
School staff counted 15 students who left without permission, Hanily said. Others who left had permission to attend off-site programs.
The penalties will depend on whether students were positively identified leaving the school and their past disciplinary records.
Two Eden Prairie police officers, three school security officers, four school deans and Principal Conn McCartan stood near exits but did not stop anyone from leaving, Laurent said. He passed out fliers Wednesday morning promoting the walkout and handed out red cups Thursday as a symbolic representation of the cups some students held in Facebook photos.
Students said they are outraged that the administration assumed those cups contained alcohol.
"There's no proof," said junior Stephanie Nemchik, who was among those who walked out.
Students crossed a footbridge from the campus to nearby Round Lake Park as cars driving underneath honked their horns. A few of the protesters held signs reading, "They walk or we do."
Students disciplined for the Facebook pictures were suspended from sports or activities. School officials said they spoke to 42 students and acted against 13. They did not release further details. McCartan declined to comment.
Laurent and others said they don't approve of underage drinking, but they think the punishment was too severe. Two weeks of suspension from sports would have sufficed, not the five weeks some students reportedly received along with the removal of the title "captain" from some star athletes, Laurent said.
Not all students were so enthusiastic about challenging the administration, however. There is also a Facebook group, which more than 70 students have joined, which claims that "EPHS students have gone too far."
"It was your choice to be in a situation where you risk your participation in school athletics/programs," reads an entry on the page.
"Walk out sometime this week? Cool. You're walking out on a fantastic school, proving absolutely nothing except that you aren't mature enough to handle the consequences of your own actions, or that you're a sheep, angrily and mindlessly following the actions of others around you."
Since the suspensions began, the school has been plagued by speculation about the source of the photos and why someone would send them to the school.
Hanily said they were submitted anonymously.
"We have had no contact with Facebook," she said.