Community members form a unity circle around the school, where they gathered in early October to repair damage done by the vandals.

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Boys who wrote racist graffiti must read diverse books as punishment

The group vandalized a historic school opened in the 1800s for African-American children

CNN  — 

Five teens were given a sentence similar to a lengthy homework assignment for defacing an old school building in Ashburn, Virginia, by painting it with swastikas, obscenities and the phrase “white power.” They must read books and watch films to expand their worldviews.

Judge Avelina Jacob, of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, handed down the sentence earlier this month. It requires the teens to read one book per month for the next 12 months from a list including titles like Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Alex Rueda said.

The boys, all age 16 or 17, were sentenced for destruction of private property and unlawful entry after they vandalized the Ashburn Colored School on September 30, said Rueda, who recommended the sentence to the judge.

The Ashburn Colored School was established in 1892 to provide local African-American children who belonged to an adjacent church an education, said Deep Sran, the founder of Loudoun School for the Gifted, which owns the property the Ashburn Colored School is on.

As part of the sentence, the teens must write a report on the book they have selected each month, Rueda said. In place of this requirement, Rueda said the boys may choose to watch and review a movie, also from a designated list, which includes “Schindler’s List” and “12 Years a Slave.”

The judge also ordered the boys to attend the United States Holocaust and the American History Museums and write a research paper on the message their vandalalsm sent to the African-American community.

Rueda said the sentence was inspired by her late mother, a former librarian, who said, “There’s so many things that I’ve learned about war and about discrimination from books.”

Reuda said she hopes the teens will learn, too. “They need to open their eyes to what awful things people have done in the world in the names of gender, race and religion. Books are the best way to combat that.”

Christopher Day, the defense attorney for two of the boys involved in the incident, supported the sentence.

“The boys really had no idea what they were doing. They were just being pranksters and so I think in that regard this punishment is very appropriate,” Day said. “It will sensitize them to what they did and how it could — while they thought it was a stupid prank – could have a very different impact on people.”

CNN could not immediately identify the defense attorneys for the other teens, who were not identified because of their age.

Sran said he also supports the inclusion of education in the sentence.

“It’s the right outcome to require the students to understand the consequences of their actions and why it created outrage in the local community.”

Max Blau contributed to this report.