School Climate & Safety

The Blunder Years

September 01, 2004 5 min read

At many high schools, senior pranks, overly demonstrative school rivalries, and other extracurricular high jinks are as traditional as homecoming and the prom. But when Spirit Week gets too spirited or a senior class tries to outdo its pranking predecessors, the fun can turn nasty. As many students have learned, the repercussions can be dire—particularly at schools cracking down on acting up. (Several of the students held responsible for these incidents were younger than 18. Teacher Magazine has withheld their names.)


STRONG CONVICTIONS

The Offense: Homecoming vandalism.

The Plot: For many, the mention of homecoming week brings back memories of football games, floats, and crisp fall weather. But for seven students in Wisconsin, nostalgia will likely be secondary to the stinging reality of the felony vandalism charges they faced. This past October, the Wausau West High School students allegedly destroyed trees and spray-painted graffiti on their campus’s running track and bleachers, causing about $3,500 worth of damage. They also replaced the school’s American flag with a Confederate one, police said. Travis Traska, 18, was quoted in the Wausau Daily Herald as saying that he and his friends wanted to “go down in the books as doing something that was going to be remembered.”

The Consequences: After years of turning a blind eye to pranks, Wausau West administrators decided to set an example. Instead of suspending orexpelling the students, administrators called the police. Although charges against the teenagers, one of whom did not attend the school, have since been reduced to misdemeanors, two of the accused are still awaiting jury trials. Traska and another teen already have been sentenced to probation, community service, and restitution for their part in the incident, and criminal charges are still pending against other accused vandals. He and two other accused students were allowed to graduate, however.

The Reaction: Cord Buckner, who serves as Wausau West’s resource officer, says that private security will be hired and additional cameras installed to monitor school grounds during this year’s homecoming.

The Fallout: School officials will publicize in advance the consequences of school pranks, Buckner says. “Often students do not understand the repercussions of their actions, and it’s our job to tell them that what they see as pranks can be considered a criminal matter,” he adds.


SENIOR MOMENT

The Offense: Parking lot pranks.

The Plot: Seniors at Pelham Memorial High School in New York cemented the school’s front door shut, placed a toilet-paper-and-chocolate-syrup-filled toilet in the parking lot, and blocked faculty parking spaces with student cars.

Students: The Blunder Years.
—Art by Glynis Sweeny

The Consequences: Three seniors, including the school board president’s son, were suspended for five days. Although they were allowed to graduate, the seniors were informed that they could not participate in the school’scommencement ceremonies, according to the New York Times.

The Reaction: Parents of the suspended students appealed to the school board to let their kids participate in graduation and atone for their misdeeds in another way. The school board voted in their favor, but the decision rankled many of the school’s teachers. More than 40 boycotted the graduation ceremony, and in a letter to the board, they complained that as a result of the softened punishment, the teachers’ “ability to set standards and to hold students accountable for inappropriate actions has been undermined.”

The Fallout: More security is in store for graduating seniors this year, both during the school day and after hours. Pelham Union Free School District superintendent Charles Wilson says he wants students to know that punishment for pranks will fit the crime. “We want to make it clear that students will be dealt with appropriately...and at the same time be very clear on what the consequences will be,” he explains.


SPIRITED AWAY

The Offense: Over-spirited week.

The Plot: The teenagers spotted festooning Middletown High School’s trees with toilet paper this past October had a novel explanation for police: The principal said it was OK. Indeed, principal Steven Ruscito told the Providence Journal, “It’s a longstanding tradition that during Spirit Week, the seniors decorate the lawn.” Not OK, however, was the red spray paint on the white columns of the Rhode Island school. Neither were the obscenities written on a school trailer with shaving cream. Nor were the strewn garbage, the slashed tires, or the $800 worth of damage to a piece of building equipment. Two elementary schools and a middle school were also vandalized, apparently by the same group.

The Consequences: The culprits of Middletown’s mayhem are still at large. Though students averred that the damage was done by teens who had already graduated, administrators canceled the high school’s homecoming dance, a pep rally, and the traditional decorating of school hallways.

The Reaction: Parents and students resented the blanket punishment, but school officials held firm.

The Fallout: Middletown police Captain David Leonard says that homecoming decorations of any kind will be banned this fall, and school officials and police will take a proactive approach to preventing rowdiness. “We are implementing a zero-tolerance policy and combining that with heightened checking of schools on a nightly basis,” Leonard says.


SIDELINED

The Offense: Rivalry gone awry.

The Plot: Citrus High School starting quarterback Casey Snyder and the team’s popular tight end/defensive end couldn’t make the big game against archrival Crystal River High School in September 2003. The two 18-year- olds and three younger boys from Citrus High in Inverness, Florida, were caught shooting paint balls at Crystal River’s homecoming floats, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

The Consequences: Although no one was arrested, Snyder and his teammate were barred from even watching the county’s biggest annual football game. All five Citrus High students were suspended for five days and excluded from the school’s homecoming festivities.

The Reaction: “I’m still kind of in shock,” Snyder told the Times. But he admitted he’d made a bad choice. “It was something stupid, and we got caught,” he said.

The Fallout: A blowout—Citrus lost to Crystal River 50-8.

—Urmila Subramanyam

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