Schools wonder about how to deal with the growing tradition and headache of senior pranks

A school truck was among the property vandalized by East Paulding High students in a senior prank gone bad. (Channel 2 Action News)

A school truck was among the property vandalized by East Paulding High students in a senior prank gone bad. (Channel 2 Action News)

AJC.com has a great story this evening on senior pranks, which are now apparently a national rite of passage for graduating high school students.

(Check out this brand new story on the AJC.com site about a Connecticut high school that discovered pygmy goats on its roof this morning, assumed to be the work of pranksters. Schools are still in session in the Northeast so their prank season is still in progress.)

When I moved South, I was surprised at two things related to pranks: Kids didn’t do them on the night before Halloween. In New Jersey, Mischief Night, as it is called, has escalated into a dangerous evening of fires and vandalism so I was delighted to find that the unfortunate tradition had not crossed the Mason-Dixon line.

However, teens here engaged in graduation pranks, something I had not seen as a high schooler. I was well aware of college graduation pranks — I am a fan of the famed MIT pranks  — but not organized high school romps.

As we saw recently, some of those romps go bad, as was the case in East Paulding where seniors went too far with their spray paint.

Here is an excerpt of the AJC.com story on pranks:

For high school seniors, it’s prank time — or “structured mayhem” in the words of Mindy Utay, a therapist who works with teens. It’s a rite of passage as graduation looms, mostly harmless fun but sometimes a escalating into vandalism. This spring alone, windows at school have been smashed, walls and sidewalks spray painted, and paint poured down steps. Cars have been flipped. Property has been damaged from California to Kentucky to Maryland. (And Georgia.)

As a result, school administrators are rethinking exactly what constitutes a prank and where to draw the line — and finding that’s not always easy to do. This year, the rule at Kenowa Hills High School in Walker, Mich., was clear: No senior pranks allowed.

But organizing themselves on Facebook, a group of graduating seniors there decided to ride bicycles, en masse, on the last day of school. They arranged for a police escort along the 3-mile route. The mayor even brought them doughnuts before they headed out to what was supposed to be a funny surprise for everyone else at school. The principal was not amused.

She thought the students had put themselves in danger by riding along a busy thoroughfare. Traffic was disrupted. Drivers caught up in it, including some teachers, were late for work. In the principal’s mind, the seniors had broken the “no pranks” rule, and she came down hard.

“But we didn’t really see it as a prank. We saw it more as a senior send-off,” says Sarah Pechumer, one of the 65 graduating students who participated. “It was harmless. It was arranged. It was legal.”

And in the rowdy history of senior pranks, it was relatively benign. Recall the letter sent to parents at California’s San Dieguito Academy in 2006, informing them that henceforth condoms would be distributed to students at all dances. Or the night at New York’s Nyack High School, when seniors — with the blessing of their principal — arranged 1,000 school desks on a field to spell out “2008.” Then, under cover of darkness, other pranksters (perhaps from the Class of 2009) re-arranged the desks in the shape of a giant penis.

“As long as it doesn’t get out of control, I think it is healthy,” says Utay, a therapist and clinical social worker in private practice in Manhattan. “It’s something they look forward to after all the pressure — a chance to take back some of the control. It’s rebellion against that pressure, empowerment. It marks the end of the high school experience.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

15 comments Add your comment

frankie

June 6th, 2012
5:30 pm

It prank season….really. wow it is crazy how people accept one crime over another that have in some case even more detrimental affects…

Breakig and entering vs property destruction….should be met with the same vigil punishment…..

TOsaythecommittingpranksis a healthy event shows the ignorance of the parents, administrators and court system alike…wait til it gets out of control then you want to come down on the kids…yes kids…..
If you don’t think of them as kids thenstop treating them like kids

So if I want to drag race to take the pressure off of my high school experience andsomeone gets killed…by the therapist ideology i should get off scott free, because i waa just releasingpressure in my own way…
Yeah…revoke that idiots license…quick

another comment

June 6th, 2012
5:59 pm

Maureen, I grew up in upstate NY, Some of the guys in my graduating class somehow put an VW bug ( minus the engine, up on the roof of the single story part of the high school. This was back in 1978. I don’t remember any sort of big punishment for these boys, except this car shell came off the roof and nothing was damaged. This was not the first or last time this was done by the graduating class at my high school. The principal had a son the same age, as me at the school in the next single high school over from us. So he knew by Tom Jrs. behavior what boys this age did. i went out with Jr. a couple of times and never lived it down.

My Senior year of College, at the same Catholic College in DC that Maureen Dowd, Jon Voight, Ed Gillogoly, ect. all graduated from, Brian Williams of NBC nightly news was only in my class a couple of years, but didn’t graduate. A group of guys, who could have even included two of the famous names I mentioned, because it did include the guys in their dorm, took my brand new Toyota Tercel that I worked 3 jobs over the summer to buy for cash. and lifted off a parking space on Michigan Ave., in Washington D.C. and put it in a Triangle of grass surrounded by bushes. I had parked it in front of a dorm and then gone into a party. I had come out after drinking a few beers and couldn’t find my car. This is when it was legal to drink Beer and Wine in D.C. at 18. ( As it should be now legal to drink at 18, as when I turned 18). I thought someone stole my car, or it got towed for tickets on my last car by DC. Then my best friend told me no, it was over on the triangle in front of the Housing and Resident Life Building. I had no intention of driving it, I was going to walk to the next party. But I could not leave the car there. So one of my friends who had not been drinking was trying to drive it through a sidewalk area, and the D.C. cops pull up. Here we are left to explain that we found my car there. It had a zillion finger indentions all around the car, so you could tell, that it took numerous guys to lift it up over the bushes. Later we went to another party. A friend of mine Bear told me and my Best Friend how he and a group of guys stole a school bus and took it for a joy ride that night. Then later my best friend overheard some other guys bragging how they took the bus and lifted some girls car over the bushes and put it in front of the Housing and Resident Life Building. It took like 20 guys from one dorm where certain people who are all now 50-52 years old all lived in College, to lift it up, and over. I then confronted “Bear” about it. He was like how did you know. Other guys were bragging about it. His reply was it sure was heavy. I never could get all the finger print dents out of the car. It is amazing how a few beers and guys think nothing of doing something like this. I worked hard for this car, it wasn’t bought for me. Whereas my friend “Bear” was one of the Rich kids, so were alot of his pack.

Mikey D

June 6th, 2012
7:02 pm

The senior prank at my high school, which still continues to this day (23 years later) was rolling the “senior tree” with toilet paper. Messy, but non-permanent and all done in good fun. These kids today are spray painting private property and then trying to hide behind the “it’s just a prank” excuse. We are reaping the consequences of raising a generation of kids who’ve been taught to believe that there are no consequences for bad choices, and that if someone tries to enforce discipline they are simply picking on the sweet babies.

Anonmom

June 6th, 2012
8:39 pm

the seniors at our school emptied the high school of furniture as the prank this year — it landed on the front lawn. Everyone had a good laugh. It was clever and creative. That afternoon or by evening, it was all back inside, probably cleaner than it was when it started. The “prank” can be good, clean, creative, fun that bonds the class — it doesn’t have to cross a line into a criminal arena.

frankie

June 6th, 2012
8:58 pm

the problem iseveryone thinks that their prank will go off without a hitch…no issue, no problem….
Itdoes not work that way…the risk is to great, some get hit by flying whatever..

Take florida, someone thought it would be “COOL” to set of fire works during graduation….how manypeople got hurt or burned from the “PRANK”.

crimes

June 6th, 2012
11:16 pm

vandalizing school property–a crime, not a prank.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

June 7th, 2012
3:24 am

(C)rimes,

At a local high school, four seniors did in excess of $5K damage to 43 external locks. These young females claim it to have been “a prank.” One even claimed at 3 AM at a local Waffle House that “My Mama will take care of it.”

Well, it wasn’t a prank and one’s “Mama…(won’t)…take care of it.”

KUDOS to our superintendent Charles Nagle and our board chair Regina Buccafusco for doing the right thing in the face of intense pressure from Columbia County’s substantial contingent of “cool parents.”

Fogey

June 7th, 2012
6:04 am

” growing tradition and headache of senior pranks” Growing tradition? How about continuing tradition? As long as there have been schools, this has happened. The story above and the story from Paulding all share one thing, Maureen. The commonality is the misuse of power by scholastic administrators. The principal in the bike story also acted like a despot because she was disobeyed. Even though the kids on bikes had a police escort, she still tried to use safety as a pretext to punish off campus behavior. To punish the kids for their mode of transport to the site of instruction. Petty.

See also the parking garage case in Valdosta. It could be boring to anyone but a law geek, but if you were to do a survey of how many school districts (like Paulding) are seeking to limit the public comment portions of their meetings, I think you would find a “growing tradition” of shrinking the public square and a marked inflation of egos among these officials and administrators.

bootney farnsworth

June 7th, 2012
7:29 am

how to get a handle on it?
again, this ain’t rocket science.

treat vandals like vandals.

bootney farnsworth

June 7th, 2012
7:38 am

oh, and what’s going on isn’t pranking (?), not by a long shot.

pranks are things like fake vomit in desk drawers, rolling things, water color based paint on
glass surfaces, air horns triggered when the girls bathroom is full, even running naked in the halls.
nothing which causes any permanent damage.

the growing tradition is called criminal mischief.

God Bless the Teacher!

June 7th, 2012
7:39 am

“…a chance to take back some of the control. It’s rebellion against that pressure…” What a moronic rationale. It’s one thing if students do the prank and then clean it up and no damage to public or private property is done (e.g., rolling the senior tree, riding bikes to school). But when damage of any type occurs the act is no longer a prank. Not quite sure why “another comment” rambled on, but a funny story nonetheless. Sounds like you’ve had impaired judgement for a while.

mystery poster

June 7th, 2012
8:08 am

Really, biking to school is a prank?

Ole Guy

June 7th, 2012
12:34 pm

We might go back to the ole issue of standards. It would seem that today’s soon-to-be-adult kids, steeped within an atmosphere completely devoid of standards, consequence, and TRUE recognition for TRUE achievement, see absolutely no difference between “kids will be kids” behavior and the destructice actions leading to absolutely no possible good and no possible consequence for poor judgement.

Events, such as the infamous Tail Hook “pranks”, several years ago, were conducted, primarily (though not exclusively) by young-to-mid twenty somethings, not all that removed from those carefree high school days. Those involved suffered the true wrath of career-altering consequence. This action, while serving no benefit to those involved, served as a real example to others, so that similar future misbehavior might be mitigated.

Should not the same apply to kids who, up to this point in their lives, have never learned the meaning of responsible behavior, and REAL consequence.

no mas

June 7th, 2012
2:12 pm

In the early 1970s, NORML was selling plastic marijuana plants as a fundraiser for their cause (legalization of marijuana), We sent offf for a bunch of them and planted them in the shrubs below the principal’s and AP’s offices. They weren’t noticed by admin for a week of so, but the students knew they were there.

We felt quite empowered by knowing something the admins didn’t, and no harm was done. I call this a prank.

Good Mother

June 11th, 2012
2:13 pm

A prank is not vandalism.
Maureen, these are crimes, not pranks.
Pranks are harmless.
One of your own readers described a successful, funny prank. All the graduates gave one penny to the principal as they shook his hand and took their diploma. At the end of the ceremony, the prinicapl had wads of coins in his pants pockets.
That’s funny — and harmless.
Goats have nerves and experience pain and fear. Causing animals (the goats) to experience fear and possible pain and death isn’t funny.
Vandalism is outrageous.
As a journalist, words are your forte.
Surely you understand the difference between the words “prank” and “vandalism” and “harm” and “crime.”
Please choose your words as a journalist should — carefully.