Commandeering a school's public address system and ordering seniors to report simultaneously to a common area is a benign end-of-the-year gag. Pulling a fire alarm as a joke is a misdemeanor.
Unfortunately for a trio of highly regarded Hudson High School seniors, their gag preceded the false alarm — the perpetrator of which is unknown — and now the three students are banned from walking at their commencement Friday evening.
While the school cannot release all details — whether the students had prior disciplinary issues, for instance — the decision by principal David LaRoche comes across as heavy-handed and overly punitive in a district that allows students who can't pass the FCAT to walk in cap and gown at graduation.
The facts at Hudson as relayed by students to Times staff writer Jeffrey Solochek indicate no malice by seniors Anthony Siciliano, Melvin Velez and Chris Jennet in their prank. The seniors did not vandalize school property, nor attempt to humiliate students or teachers.
That was not the case in a highly publicized incident at Land O'Lakes High School earlier this decade when a group of student-athletes spray-painted vulgarities aimed at an assistant principal. Those students correctly received arrest records for trespassing and criminal mischief, 10-day suspensions and a commencement ban.
The actions in Hudson do not rise to that level. The trio should be accountable for their actions, but forcing them to miss the senior breakfast and graduation is too severe. A better way to teach students that actions have consequences would be to require the trio to perform public service. Make them do work around the school grounds so the rest of the student body can witness their manual labor in a week the seniors should be hanging out with friends, socializing and preparing for commencement.
It is an appropriate strategy used previously in the district, notably two years ago at Zephyrhills High School. There, police apprehended 11 seniors attempting a late-night entry into school with the intent of using plastic utensils to spell "07'' in the lawn. Even though police charged three of the students with misdemeanors, the principal allowed them to walk at commencement after they agreed to prepare the school for graduation and return to clean up afterward.
It provided an important two-pronged lesson worthy of a repeat at Hudson High. Students learned about both responsibility and compassion.