Pranks Went Beyond Being Funny

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A good joke, like a good prank, can be fun and bring smiles to everyone involved.

It's fun -- a change of pace that takes the pressure off, unless some serious physical damage is done that becomes costly to repair.

A few weeks ago, the girls softball team pulled a prank using forks to make a point on a ball field. No harm. No foul. They used the prank to relieve the pressure of a losing streak, and they won their next game.

What happened this past week went beyond being a prank. It may have been good fun to Super Glue pennies in the form of ‘08' on cement where they could eventually be removed, hopefully without damage or at least without long-term problems.

Jumping a bus parking lot fence, spray painting ‘08' on school buses, taking the valve stems and air out of tires, which required hours of expensive labor to re-inflate, along with removing the spray paint, took the "fun" too far. Spray painting the recently completed track, which was for the benefit of students at a cost to the district of $100,000, is another step too far. Real dollars, maybe $10,000 of taxpayer money, had to be spent repairing the damage caused by the prank.

Payson school district officials have apparently decided the penny incident was just that, a prank, which resulted in no serious harm. The seven or nine students involved removed the pennies. Apparently an outline of the ‘08' remains, but is that all bad?

A much larger group of students, those who jumped a fence, took the valve stems and air out of tires, broke into buses and spray painted the recently finished field, may be facing felony charges.

It was a prank which went very badly, and it was not funny.

We think the punishment should fit the crime. Burdening these young people with a criminal record, costing some of them the opportunity to attend college on a scholarship and certainly placing them in jail does not fit the crime. Branding them as delinquents, when for the most part these are ‘A' students who made a really bad, immature decision, does not seem quite right. Many of these students came forward and admitted their part in the prank, which speaks well about the quality of these students.

After all, these are not full-grown adults. As a society, we may treat them like adults, but in reality they are still children, still growing up, still learning and still unable to make good decisions completely on their own, as they just demonstrated.

That is not to say they should not be held accountable for their actions. They need to learn that for every action there is a reaction, that responsibility comes with growing up and with adulthood. These are teens trying to become adults, ready to enter the world and they need to understand what they did was stupid at the very least, and criminal at the worst.

We think a better way for the community to handle this situation is to ‘sentence' these students to do some serious community service work. Wash and clean the buses, help clean classrooms or whatever other work they can do which will help the school district. If the school district can't find enough for them to do, then maybe the town could. Perhaps some nonprofit groups, like the Humane Society, the Historical Society, etc. could use some strong, young adults to complete projects. Maybe they could help build the Habitat for Humanity homes now under construction.

And make them -- not their parents -- reimburse the school district for money it spent undoing the problems that were created by the students.

This needs to be a burden on these students, a pain that they will remember, yet learn from. There should be a community service burden of their time and a financial burden.

Saddling them with criminal records is not the answer. The charges should be held in abeyance, say for 30 or 60 days, to give these students time to do community service and to repay the school district. The ones who complete the ‘sentence' and have learned a lesson can get on with their lives. The ones who don't complete the ‘sentence' get to face the judge, whatever the final charges might become.

The question of letting these students walk with their fellow classmates is another matter. Have they disgraced their classmates and therefore should not enjoy the privilege of walking with the others on Thursday night? Maybe the pain of what they did needs to start with facing the consequences, and not being with their classmates. Thursday is a start.

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