Our community got an unexpected bit of notoriety this past week from a national publication.
A story in USA Today, “High schools cracking down on end-of-the-year pranks,” made note of the vandalism of Greenbrier High School by four seniors and a younger student as one of the more damaging “pranks” to hit schools around the country.
As Gary Strauss writes, “Fed-up school administrators have been cracking down. Four seniors at Georgia’s Greenbrier High were arrested for squirting glue into the locks of nearly four dozen school doors. They were suspended and blocked from graduation ceremonies. They won’t receive diplomas until they cover more than $5,100 in repairs.”
The timing of USA Today’s story might seem a little odd, considering school has been out here for five weeks. Many other areas of the country, however, still start their school year much later than us, and as a result they end their school year far deeper into what we consider summer. For many of those schools these pranks aren’t just recent history, but instead were still happening up until the story was published.
While the story casts one of our local schools in an unflattering national light, the good news is that it provides examples not only of a few exceptionally clever and generally harmless pranks, but rightly makes the distinction between harmless practical jokes and destructive vandalism.
Some examples from the story of the former:
• Seniors at a Connecticut high school put four goats on the roof of a school entryway.
• Students at a Nevada school managed to maneuver two large bells from a campus display to a second-floor hallway.
• Seniors at a Michigan school met early on the last day of school and staged a mass bike ride of 65 students to campus.
Sure, the goats and the bells have potential for damage, but as the principal of the Nevada school is quoted as saying, “As long as they don’t destroy anything and it doesn’t require a lot of resources to clean up, it’s much better to embrace these things than to react with a punitive iron fist.”
Most people would probably find that attitude entirely reasonable, though many school administrators understandably could be a little squeamish about seeming to condone pranks. They know all too well that for every clever jokester, there are a dozen vandals just waiting to push things entirely too far.
That’s what a handful of people still don’t seem to get about the Greenbrier glue girls, who are expected to be indicted any day now by a Columbia County grand jury on felony charges. There’s nothing even remotely clever about destroying expensive lock mechanisms and electronic keypads by squirting glue into them. When it comes down to it, that’s not much different from eco-terrorists who poured sugar in the gas tanks of logging equipment. Thank goodness we don’t hear much about those people any more.
It’s important to remember, too, that the girls apparently intended to take their prank even further, for example, by pouring oil through the hallways of the school. Just imagine the first person stepping into the school, hitting that oil and slipping and breaking a bone or two. Gee, wouldn’t that just be a hoot? Fortunately, that didn’t happen.
In any event, there’s one other important distinction between a harmless prank and vandalism: Once the harmless prank is over, everyone gets a laugh and moves on. With vandalism, the thing just drags on with repairs, prosecution and restitution.
And then, with stories picked up in a national paper.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 7060863-6165, extension 106, or follow at twitter.com/barry paschal.)