River Falls school district says pranks have ‘gone beyond tolerable”
By Phil Pfuehler Forum News Service RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- OK, so toilet papering a shrub or tree outside someone's home is one thing. But finding a dead squirrel or gopher dropped on your backyard picnic table or having a stove, fridge, couch and ...
By Phil Pfuehler
Forum News Service
RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- OK, so toilet papering a shrub or tree outside someone’s home is one thing.
But finding a dead squirrel or gopher dropped on your backyard picnic table or having a stove, fridge, couch and La-Z-Boy recliner left on your front lawn – are these permissible pranks for school homecoming or prom or senior week?
The River Falls School Board has voted to add stricter enforcement in the new activities handbook to put the skids on the extreme-prank acceleration.
New wording mentions upholding the school district’s “character education philosophy” and refers to consequences for “actions that may be construed as pranks to include, but not limited to, any types of destruction of property, trespassing, and/or physical or mental anguish to an individual.”
Most pranks occur off school grounds but are connected to school activities -- like homecoming.
Superintendent Jamie Benson said the school board’s action resulted from recent complaints by parents and students.
“Traditions have evolved, changed and escalated,” Benson said. “Good kids (often) try to ‘outdo’ the previous class or previous group of students.
“Ninety-eight percent of the pranks were not intended to bring harm or irritate people. Things just escalated over time, the trend started to take things too far…Some pranks also creating the setting for injuries and accidents to happen.”
Benson said fun traditions can get out of control, spurred on by peer pressure and one-ups-manship.
High School Principal Kit Luedtke put the pranking trend in perspective.
“We have had Senior Girls night out around Homecoming week where senior females toilet paper and leave other items such as furniture, feminine hygiene products, shaving cream and Saran wrapping of vehicles,” Luedtke said. “Senior Boys night out is in the spring where the senior boys retaliate and target senior girls homes. It has escalated in recent years where damage has occurred to homeowners related to these events.
“It has moved far away from what parents see as kids going out to toilet paper homes. Other than these two evenings, our students really are very respectful to each other, our school, and community when it comes to pranks.”
Benson said the new language in the Activities Handbook, while sending a message, is still general enough that future complaints will have to be “dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”
How about toilet papering during homecoming? Is that still permissible?
The handbook doesn’t specify what pranks are banned, so there remains ambiguity, depending on how people react to a given prank.
Benson said student-athlete prank violators could be suspended for 20% of the season of their sport.
“The key term (in the handbook) is that suspension may occur for violations that may be viewed as ‘conduct unbecoming of an athlete or co-curricular participant,” Benson said.
Off-campus pranks by non-athletic/co-curricular students would not be subject to school discipline, Benson said, but they could face legal enforcement by police.
Activity handbooks are made available on the Web at the start of each school year for middle and high school students.
Benson said the handbook content is discussed during middle school TA and high school Focus times. Students then sign a form that they’ve understand the guidelines.
Benson said curtailing pranks is not meant to punish, but rather “to help support strong character and help in keeping our students and community safe.”
When the 2015-16 school year begins, Benson said coaches and advisers will “inform and educate” students about reasons behind the prank crackdown.
“We need to continue to remind students that having fun should never come at the expense of other people,” Benson said. “The handbook revision is a symbol of a new beginning, while also adding clarity that new consequences may result of such pranks.”