On Monday evening a group of Indiana high school seniors snuck into their school. Armed with stationery supplies and a borrowed key, they proceeded to redecorate the place. Nobody was harmed, no damage was done. They just slapped up a few thousand Post-Its.
The pranksters included the school’s valedictorian, salutatorian, and senior class president. The key came from the mother of one of the students, who was a school board member and was aware of their plans. A custodian kept an eye out to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. The group even planned to take down the Post-Its themselves.
But when school officials arrived the next morning, they suspended all six for trespassing, and moved to fire the custodian (also the mother of a student, as it happens). When supportive students staged a gym sit-in protest, another 57 were suspended.
I’ve always found this kind of trespassing charge ridiculous, and more than a little chilling. A school (or a college) is a community as much as it is an institution, and these students’ acts were grounded in that sense of community — the sense that the school is their school. When administrators use the language of trespass to punish behavior like a prank or a demonstration they do casual violence to that vision of community.
This particular story, I’m glad to report, has a mostly happy ending. After students, parents, and alumni protested, the six pranksters’ suspensions were revoked and expunged from their records. The plan to fire the custodian has been abandoned. The 57 protesters’ suspensions were reduced to a single day’s after-school detention.
And with a little luck next year’s seniors will pull an even better prank.