(WGHP) – Some students call it a senior prank. Law enforcement officials call it vandalism.
In North Carolina, the school districts are filing charges.
Over the last month, multiple school districts in the state have filed charges against students in connection with so-called pranks that, they say, are anything but harmless.
The Burlington Police Department, for instance, recently announced that charges had been filed against seven students who were reportedly involved in an incident at Walter M. Williams High School, during which they poured cement mix into eight toilets and six urinals after breaking in.
The incident, which made national headlines, was extremely destructive, school officials said.
“That alone was the cost of around $4,000,” said Les Atkins, spokesperson for the Alamance-Burlington School System (ABSS).
That’s not counting labor.
“We had about 17 maintenance workers here.”
It wasn’t just the cement. Baby powder was all over the gym, inappropriate signs and balloons were all over the school, mulch was in the halls and more.
“We had some of our administrators out cleaning up toilet paper,” said Atkins.
The problem is not an isolated one. Western Alamance High School in Elon, North Carolina, was egged, and trash was dumped everywhere. At Southern Alamance in Graham, seniors poured dead fish in the parking lot and on wrestling mats, dumped old appliances on campus, and a moped was put on the roof.
“This really goes beyond a prank at this point. This is destruction of school property,” Atkins said.
Five seniors and two underclassmen are now facing misdemeanor property damage and breaking and entering charges for their role in cement mixing at Williams High.
“They will not be able to participate in graduation exercises … for the students who were not seniors, they will be long-term suspended, which means for the first nine weeks of next year, they will not be allowed on our campus.”
A release on Thursday morning from the ABSS Board of Education elaborated that over 80 seniors will not be participating in graduation exercises. Sixty of those students barred from graduation are from Williams High School alone, according to the district.
“The Board of Education is aware that more than 80 students from Alamance-Burlington Schools will not be allowed to participate in upcoming graduation ceremonies. These students were identified entering our school buildings as part of senior pranks across the District. Seven of these students were identified and subsequently charged by the Burlington Police Department for damaging eight toilets and six urinals at Walter Williams High School costing the District more than $4,000,” the statement reads.
ABSS officials said they also expect an increase in the “number of students who will not participate in graduation” as its investigation progresses.
“We feel it is important to bring clarity to this unfortunate situation and to be transparent with the community. Please know we do believe important milestones should be celebrated yet we do expect our students to do so in a respectful manner. The disruption of learning, monetary costs to our District, extra burden on our facilities team and, at several campuses, the disregard for student safety simply cannot be tolerated,” the ABSS Board of Education wrote.
Other districts have reacted similarly. In Union County, five people were arrested and accused of felony damaging computers at Sun Valley High School, with more than $20,000 in damage estimated. In Mecklenburg County, around 50 students broke into Mallard Creek High School and caused $5,000 of damage by tossing furniture and throwing trash. Some have been charged.
Both districts will prohibit those involved from participating in graduation ceremonies.
Guilford County and Winston-County/Forsyth County Schools say they have not experienced any major senior pranks, but school principals may choose speak to their students to discourage the behavior.
For their part, most students are not happy with what happened. One student leader said they should pay restitution.
“It was vandalism. It wasn’t a senior prank at all. I think they were completely out of line, and if they’re getting their scholarships and suspended, I feel like their scholarship money should be … put towards the cement because it’s $4,000 in damages,” she said.