End-of-the-year pranks turns serious for some students

Sunday, May 23, 2004

ATHENS, Ga. -- Whether it's toilet papering trees or spray painting a wall, senior hijinks at high schools each year land some surprised pranksters in jail and banned from graduation and prom.

Two pranks in Georgia that damaged school property have drawn complaints from parents about the end-of-the-year traditions -- although some acknowledge there's really no way to stop some zealous seniors.

"The problem with the tradition is they're always trying to top the last prank," said Michael Carr with the National Association of Secondary School Superintendents. "If they're constantly trying to do that, it can get to the point where it can be dangerous."

Five students at a west Georgia high school were arrested and charged last week with criminal damage to property after spray painting four school golf carts with the school's colors and pouring bleach on part of the football field. The Coweta County teens were barred from attending graduation ceremonies Thursday.

Students at a suburban Atlanta high school this week swapped a pornographic videotape for the school announcements tape, sending graphic sexual images out to a few classroom televisions. The school has not yet identified the culprits, but their investigation has focused on seniors.

And at a Tennessee high school, the student body president and another student were charged this month with felony vandalism and burglary after toilet papering trees on campus. The students were arrested for entering the school to get on the roof to pull off their prank, which the principal said was a long-standing tradition that had not previously resulted in arrests.

Some school officials say the senior pranks are expected but some students seem to be out of control, harming property and themselves.

Perhaps the strongest way for principals and teachers to dissuade pranksters is to threaten the loss of important events such as graduation and prom, and warn them of potential criminal charges.

"For a principal, the only stick they have to wave on this is that they can say to the students, and a lot of them do, that nothing is guaranteed. You're not guaranteed to attend your prom, not guaranteed to walk across the stage and pick up your diploma," Carr said.

There's not much else you can do, "short of literally ringing your school with some sort of 24-hour security protection," said Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association.

At Atlanta's Lakeside High School, that's the case during the last week of classes each year. Principal Randall Lee and another administrator spend the night in the building to discourage late-night pranks. Armed with flashlights and walkie-talkies, they frequently check the halls and monitor the school's 30-plus security cameras at all hours. Parking lot and indoor lights stay on.

"It's kind of traditional here at Lakeside for seniors to try to do something ... to say goodbye," Lee said. "Most of the seniors do not intend really to damage to school but sometimes in the heat and enthusiasm it gets carried away. They don't see the damage that could be done nor the massive amount of cleanup."

Having someone in the school at all hours with cars parked outside seems to deter pranks, Lee said. Just seeing an adult presence will make some students "just go back home and go to sleep."

Some verbal warnings also have been made clear to students.

Alexis Yoculan, a senior at Athens Academy, said the school's headmaster has emphasized during meetings about graduation that they shouldn't do anything that will jeopardize them from graduating.

"If it's something that's harmless and not vandalism ... it can be funny and cute," she said. "Some things get carried way of out hand."

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