Senior pranks: School districts draw line between fun, vandalism
As graduation nears, school districts are dealing with increasing pranks by high school seniors. These senior pranks, mostly harmless and done in good spirit, can escalate to vandalism. Where do school officials draw the line?
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Utay says, at her own children's school, pranks are considered a tradition — even a show of school spirit. Generally, it's been silly things, she says — dropping the tennis balls or hiding the dead fish.Skip to next paragraph
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Or, say, putting four pygmy goats on an overhang above a school entrance, as authorities at Simsbury High School in Connecticut discovered Wednesday.
"Like a lot of the practical joking and horseplay that goes on between adolescents and young adults, pranks are by and large fairly harmless, if nothing gets bruised except dignity," says Sherry Hamby, a psychology professor at Sewanee, The University of the South, in Tennessee.
Pranks often continue into college life, as they have for Brigham Young University junior Nate Stebbing and some of his buddies. This spring, Stebbing and his crew turned neighbors' apartment living room into a giant Easter basket, complete with real sod and live bunnies and chicks. The video they made has gotten hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube.
The key to a successful prank, Stebbing says, is to never be mean-spirited or destructive. (The sod is now adorning someone's lawn and the animals found a good home.)
"We made sure that the people we were pranking were not people who'd take it the wrong way," he says. "Now we're super-tight friends with them — and it's an awesome memory."
When there is damage done, however, school administrators say it's important to set a firm limit — a precedent aimed at fending off future destructive pranks.
"The punishment should fit the crime," says Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for Howard County Public Schools in Maryland.
Recently, students at one of the county's high school spray painted exterior walls and sidewalks at the school, threw toilet paper around, and moved trash cans into the middle of the street to block traffic.
Parents, Caplan says, didn't seem that concerned, as if "this is to be expected — that this is what you do when you're a senior."
But while she says it wasn't the worst prank they've seen over the years, school officials took it seriously. The 30 or so seniors involved came forward after they were told that no criminal charges would be filed if they confessed. They then spent the day before their recent graduation cleaning up the messes they'd made.
Even when there is no damage, some administrators feel the need to take a hard line. In May, in Clayton, Ind., a half-dozen students were suspended when they decorated their high school with more than 10,000 Post-It notes, and about 50 students who protested by cutting class were suspended as well.
Meanwhile, back at Kenowa Hills, principal Katie Pennington banned the students who participated in the bike ride from their "senior walk," a yearly ritual when seniors take the last hour of school to say goodbye to underclassmen and school staff.
After parents and students complained, Pennington issued an apology "for a reaction that blew this incident out of proportion and called into question the character of our students."
"My actions and emotion overshadowed what should have been a very positive senior activity," she said in her statement.
In response, one local radio station gave the principal a bicycle.
At their graduation rehearsal, seniors also wore T-shirts that said "Freedom Riders."
It was all in good fun, and senior Cara Dirkmaat said she learned something from the experience.
"We all make mistakes," she says.
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