The incidence of vandalism, assault and pranks prior to high school graduation appears to be down this year, school officials say.
A few weeks ago, Free State High School Student Council President Matt Pepple called about 70 student representatives together for a talk.
"It was right after the (shooting) incident in Littleton," Colo., he said.
"I told them that it had caused so much fear within the student body, that any prank that was tasteless or out of line " that it would be in really poor taste and that the students really ran a risk by doing it and that they should really think twice about it."
The student representatives returned to their home rooms and relayed the same messaage to the rest of the students at Free State.
Pepple said he wasn't sure how effective the message effort was, but student pranks during the final month of school appear to be down, regardless.
But the problem hasn't been eliminated.
Lawrence police in recent weeks have responded to several calls involving students allegedly wrapping their peers with duct tape, throwing toilet paper into trees and tossing eggs at homes.
"We seem to go through this every year," said Lawrence Police spokesman Sgt. George Wheeler. "What they need to realize is this is criminal activity and they can be arrested."
Officials at both Lawrence High School and Free State High School have hired extra security to watch both buildings at night to stop vandalism at the schools.
"They like to write on each others' school signs with spray paint," Wheeler said.
In past years, the "pranks" have been more serious:
- Three students were charged by authorities in 1994 after they allegedly drained motor oil from 41 school buses, causing an estimated $15,000 in damage.
- Three years ago, the goal posts at LHS were torn down, causing considerable damage there, said principal Dick Patterson.
Pranks usually heat up during "senior week," the last week of school for seniors, who get out of school on May 28 and will graduate on May 30. All other high school students get out of school on June 2.
In the wake of Littleton, school officials have both stressed the consequences to students and provided alternative activities -- such as senior barbecues -- to help students mark their rite of passage without vandalism or assaulting other students.
"This community has an awful tradition about that kind of stuff, and we'd like to change that climate," said FSHS principal Joe Snyder.
"This is kind of like a rite of passage that kids think they need to have," Snyder said.
Patterson said that LHS school officials last week confiscated a roll of duct tape from a sophomore "who brought it because he thought he was supposed to be duct-taped to be a real high school student."
"We've tried to set the tone to prevent that hazing from taking place," Patterson said.
Patterson said that so far this year the school has only had to deal with that one duct-tape-related incident.
"We haven't had the incidents of terror that we've had in recent years," he said. "We've just got to let the kids have a way of having fun without being harmful to another person."
Pepple said students conduct pranks as a sort of rite of passage.
"You have that rambunctiousness where it's warm and they dont' want to work, and they want to have fun. And this is also kind of a last hurrah for seniors," he said.
Although students may believe it's fun to throw eggs or to toilet paper an acquaintance's home, Wheeler said, "the victims don't think it's too funny."
Lawrence police patrol Sgt. Mark Warren also said the number of incidents may be down this year because of Littleton.
"I think the kids might be a little bit more aware because of it," he said.
-- Michael Dekker's phone message number is 832-7187. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.