Safety vs. school spirit

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Stacy Vogel
Sunday, October 21, 2007
— Homecoming has been in the news plenty lately, and not always for good things:

- Edgerton High School cancelled its schoolwide pep rally last week after rumors circulated that there would be a shooting at the high school. A new policy establishing punishments for toilet-papering the school also took effect this year.

- Evansville High School sent a letter to parents last week and increased security at its homecoming activities after students reported hearing a threat.

- Parker High School might discontinue its annual “Burning of the V” after this year because of safety concerns as school expansion eats up space where the fire is traditionally held.

The actions come amid general security concerns after a string of school violence over the past few years, including a shooting in Cleveland this month, and might have students and community members wondering, where’s the fun in homecoming?

It’s still there, school administrators say, but schools can’t take chances with safety.

“At no time do we ever want to compromise the safety of our students,” said Mike Kuehne, principal of Craig High School in Janesville. “That’s No. 1, but while we’re at it, we still want to preserve the spirit of homecoming.”

The things Edgerton and Evansville are dealing with this year Kuehne experienced last year when an expelled student threatened violence at the school. Craig didn’t cancel any events, but it did increase police presence at homecoming activities.

Indeed, several principals said there is more security at homecoming events now than years ago. At the very least, security weighs more on administrators’ minds.

“Schools are more conscious of the safety issues,” said Dale Carlson, Parker High School principal. “We make sure that our activities are supervised and things like that—probably what should have always happened.”

The likely discontinuation of the “Burning of the V” at Parker isn’t a security issue so much of a logistics issue, Carlson said. The school is scheduled for renovation in the coming years, and there probably won’t be space to safely light the fire the way the school traditionally does it, he said.

But some schools are re-examining the appropriateness of some “traditional” homecoming activities.

A new policy, approved by the Edgerton School Board last year, took effect this year spelling out the punishments for students caught toilet papering school grounds.

If the students don’t vandalize anything, they’re ordered to perform six hours of community service before attending any homecoming activities and they’re issued tickets for breaking curfew. Punishments become progressively worse if vandalism is involved.

Four students were caught toilet-papering the school Sunday night, Principal Jim Halberg said.

Some might see toilet-papering as an innocent prank, but it often leads to damage and injuries, Halberg said.

“We’ve had a lot of things that have proved to our school board and our administration that toilet-papering is not just harmless fun when you get kids running around in the dark at 2 o’clock in the morning,” he said.

Several Edgerton students said they don’t see the big deal about toilet-papering.

“It’s part of our tradition,” senior Meaghan Demrow said. “As long as there’s no vandalism, I don’t think it does any harm.”

On the other hand, Demrow and other students said they approved of the way the administration handled the threats against the homecoming pep rally. When the rally was cancelled, staff organized individual celebrations in the students’ home bases.

Students watched an hour-long “Tider Talk” video with a movie trivia contest and taped crowning of the homecoming king and queen. They also built ice cream sundaes.

“It was pretty fun,” senior Cory Moore said. “It was better than taking the risk that something could happen.”

Despite the security worries this year, several Edgerton students said homecoming still is the highlight of the school year.

“It’s like the only good part of school,” junior Jenna Pope said.

While administrators might not go that far, they do see the value in keeping homecoming fun, they said.

“For the kids, it’s a way to have some fun,” Milton High School Principal Randy Refsland said. “There’s an expectation that kids are working hard to learn and so on, and that’s going on, but they also need a chance to be kids, because they still are.”

Last updated: 5:59 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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