Official mischief

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High school pranks have a way of getting out of hand, occasionally creating bad memories that last a lifetime for both perpetrators and victims. Just ask Mitt Romney, who in the midst of his presidential campaign is being interrogated about reports that he participated in forcing a haircut upon a nonconformist fellow student at the Massachusetts prep school he attended nearly 50 years ago. The Republican candidate admitted he’d done some stupid things in high school and apologized for any hard feelings the incident may have caused.
In other times and places, students have felt compelled to celebrate the end of high school with “senior sneak day,” wherein an entire class defies  truancy laws to spend a spring day on the beach rather than in the classroom. Principals who resisted such episodes of youthful rebellion risked being hanged in effigy.
The trend lately has been been for school administrators to accept the inevitable in exchange for a measure of control over the outcome. “Pranks” cleared in advance have the official stamp of approval and may even be seen as serving some constructive purpose. Such seems to have been the case at Frankfort High School, where Frankfort Independent Superintendent Rich Crowe authorized a group of students to remove a collection of painted logs, salvaged from three pin oaks felled in the school yard last year, the remains grouped into a student-created outdoor sculpture.
Crowe explained that there’d been an outpouring of criticism directed at the appearance of the display, not to mention the difficulty it created for crews mowing the grounds. When he learned that senior “pranksters” were scheming to remove the landmark, he saw an easy way to accomplish what he wanted to do anyway. The deed got done in the dark of night – with police fully informed beforehand – a few weeks ago.
What the superintendent might not have expected was the ferocity of the response from Melanie VanHouten, the artist in residence who oversaw student work on the original project, funded with a $1,080  grant from the Kentucky Arts Council and a $770 “innovative grant” from the local school system. She’s not buying Crowe’s rationale that he’d tried to channel pranksters’ mischief into something beneficial to the school and the community.
“I am appalled that the administration would even consider such a thing,” she wrote in a letter of protest to school officials.
Crowe now recognizes he’d have been better off having the chore performed by the system’s own maintenance crews. He said he never intended to hurt anyone but insisted the alleged eyesore had to go.
VanHouten, unappeased, lambasted the administrator for exploiting a group of students to perform a task that might have been treated as an act of vandalism, even theft, under different circumstances. Crowe reassured the young people afterwards that they’d face no legal consequences for their action.
Maybe this is what educators like to call a learning experience. Students who joined in memorializing the FHS oaks learned that products of high school artistry  usually have limited shelf life, and their superintendent learned that a senior prank agreement that seems too good to be true probably is. Next time, everyone should know better.

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