When the high school prank isn’t so bad

I have lots of sympathy for high school principals this time of year. You know you’re going to have to deal with some kind of senior prank. The only questions are how bad will it be and how do you react?

Often, it’s easy. Break the law or damage property and there’s no question teens need to be suspended and the cops called. What do you do, though, when the prank is a hassle and kind of disruptive to school but not necessarily bad?

At a high school outside of Boston, the principal applauded the creativity of students who filled the corridors with balloons. The local paper wrote:

Interim Principal Mary Villano told parents what happened.

Photos included in an email Monday, May 21, showed what was waiting for school staffers when they arrived that Friday. “The entire stairwell from the cafeteria leading up to the main lobby near media center was filled with balloons,” she wrote.

“I later discovered there were 3,300 of them. It was quite a spectacle and started the day off with lots of laughs and excitement. Many of you probably saw pictures that your children took on their phones.

“Our administrative team fully enjoyed the prank as it was done in good taste and did not have any negative impact on the school.

Here’s a photo the school supplied to media:


The principal left the balloons there for an hour so other students could see them and then popped them to clear the corridors and the kids cleaned up.

Contrast that to an Indiana schools superintendent who not happy to see his high school plastered inside with 11,000 Post-its.

That prank led to the firing of a custodian (who thought the kids had permission to enter) and then the suspensions of 57 students who protested the firing.

The suspensions have been lifted but no word yet on the janitor’s fate.

I’m typically a no-fun, law-and-order sort. But it’s hard to argue against the Arlington principal’s approach. A deeper question, though, is: Which group of adults sent the right message to kids about behavior that wasn’t stellar but wasn’t awful?

  • John P.

    I think it’s traditionally American to poke your finger in the eye of authority now and then.

    If no important harm was done, I say let it go.

  • Bob Moffitt

    I was in Indianapolis when the story was unfolding. The janitor DID get her job back, and none of the students face any further disciplinary action as a result of the prank, or the protests that followed.

    Some angry parents still want to see the supertendent fired, though.

  • Shane

    I think the superintendent overreacted in Indianapolis. The right message was sent to the students in Boston. The best part is that the principal was able to laugh at the situation, keep the balloons for others to enjoy, and then had the kids help clean up. Kind of a full circle deal.

  • Doug

    All fun and games right. Hey officer, I was just having fun. Why have rules and expectations if they are not enforced. At a time when we need adults to act and behave like adults we have them acting like children and concerned if they will be their friends.

  • David G

    And then there is the case in Michigan where 60 students were sent home for riding their bikes to school.

  • Jeff

    It was clever. Nobody was harmed. It’s tradition. Why mess up people’s lives over it. What I found most interesting is that the students weren’t suspended for the prank (putting up the Post-Its) but for entering the building. If the entered the building and then left without doing anything and were then suspended, would that seem reasonable?

    We, as a society, don’t enforce every rule all the time. This is one of those times when the rule should not be enforced.

  • Heather

    Balloons. Post-it notes. So dangerous. And illegal! Oh, wait…

    Doug, I think you could stand to lighten up. The kids are celebrating the end of the school year. The grown-ups know they’re going to think of some sort of prank. And guess what? Some of those kids and grown-ups might even have a sense of humor. What did they hurt?

  • Jim Shapiro

    Doug, can you spell A-N-A-L?

    Most people who work with kids love them and understand the need to be flexible, while some are frightened, petty, insecure control freaks.

    I’ll bet we all know examples of both personality types.

    Doug, you just need to look in the mirror and decide.

  • The Big Dog

    At a school, the atmosphere of the school starts with the administration and works its way down. Angry administration makes for angry teachers which makes for angry students. I have worked for administration like the Supt. in Indiana and I left as soon as I could.

    If the kids that pulled the prank in Boston cleaned up the mess then I would say the punishment fit the crime.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Big Dog – “At a school, the atmosphere of the school starts with the administration and works its way down.”

    Well said. I think that that reality probably holds true for almost all hierarchical organizations.

  • Kevin Watterson

    How did they pop all those balloons?