Monday, June 24, 2024

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Pranks vs. outright vandalism

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Our wholehearted applause to ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler for his courage, decisiveness, determination, and tenacity in taking prompt action against ABSS students who engaged in nothing short of vandalism at each of the county’s six high schools last month. And for sticking to his guns amid (a few) dissenting voices.

Students apparently decided that the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend recess two weeks ago would be an excellent opportunity to trash their schools in the name of “senior pranks.”

Such pranks, we are being told by aggrieved students, are a sort of tradition, a “rite of passage” almost, for graduating seniors, who supposedly can justify such on-campus mischief toward the end of their high school tenures.

But what students did at the six high schools  (see photos furnished by the school system in this edition) went far beyond changing the wording on the school’s marquee, leaving a Ronald McDonald blowup on the roof of a school, or other far less serious “pranks” of the past.

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We think that filling eight toilets and six urinals at Williams High School with cement, necessitating at least $4,000 in repairs and replacements, would meet near universal condemnation as flagrant, criminal vandalism.  Burlington police were right to issue criminal charges against seven students (apparently the ring-leaders among the current total of 44 students involved) for breaking and entering and injury to real property.

If anyone else (other than students) had broken into an ABSS school and done similar damage, they all would be facing criminal charges.

Butler had determined that the 82 seniors involved in such actions, including the five who were criminally charged, were to be immediately suspended for the remainder of the school year, and would not be allowed to participate in graduation exercises.  (They can pick up their diplomas the following Monday.)

According to the school system, it took 17 maintenance workers most of a Friday two weeks ago to repair some of the damage so that Williams High School would be ready to open after Memorial Day.

Are overturned desks, ripped open lockers, raw eggs thrown against brick facades, scratched gym floors, graffiti (often including profanity) really as serious?

Defacing public property is never justified. Especially when all six high schools were just renovated, thanks to the $150 million taxpayer-funded bond passed in 2018, the largest in the county’s history.  Renovations cost about $83 million.

Neither is trespassing on public property in the middle of the night.

As the school superintendent said, being in schools after hours and without permission is, flat out, trespassing.

Students are expected to be on campus during school hours during the day.

There may be extracurricular activities (sporting events, etc.) that also warrant an encore presence on school grounds.

But breaking into a school through skylights or openings on the roof, prying open windows or locked doors (or having left them ajar for a planned return), or otherwise entering a school with the purpose of trashing the place, defacing it, or otherwise sacking and smashing school property, desks, lockers, and offices is most certainly not a legitimate purpose for returning to school.

We suspect that much of the superintendent’s current investigation is also researching whether anyone in high school administration gave winks, nods, or even explicit permission for students to undertake these activities.

For instance, we kept being told that Eastern’s principal, Dr. Whitney Fliehman, explicitly told students after their mischief that if they just cleaned it up, all would be forgiven and there’d be no other consequences. (She has not returned a phone call asking for her side of that characterization.)

When asked about that allegation at a press conference last Thursday, Dr. Butler said that if the principal had actually made such an assurance, “that’s a conversation that she and I will have to discuss that.”

He also said there will be “no support” for senior pranks in the future.

We suspect that Dr. Butler will be needing to have that conversation with principals and other administrators who may have given implicit signals, sanctioning the pranks – perhaps without knowing the destructive level this year’s “pranks” would reach.

It should also be remembered by all that fewer than about 5 percent of ABSS high school seniors engaged in this destructive behavior at their schools. About 95 percent did not.

Our commendations also to the 95 percent who avoided such irresponsible actions.

Dr. Butler said, we think with great prescience, “I’m sending a message that we’re not going to tolerate this type of behavior.”

We suspect that it won’t take more than implementing this year’s tough policy against senior students to ensure that it won’t happen again.

Thank you, Dr. Butler.

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