Relax, administrators: It’s just a food fight


There is something strange in the sloppy joes being served at Dubuque Senior High School. A senior prank involving the saucy loose-meat sandwiches and a food fight in the school’s cafeteria resulted in the repainting of a wall and the replacing of some ceiling tiles, which were apparently stained beyond repair. What sort of industrial-strength Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, and ketchup can cause irreparable damage to walls and ceiling tiles? I have lived in and visited enough college housing to know that even the most apocalyptic incidents can be cleaned and covered up, often without the aid of paint. Ammonia or bleach works wonders (don’t combine the two — it produces chlorine gas).

What is more disturbing, in my opinion, is the administration’s response to the incident. Many students who were involved, mostly seniors, have been suspended, with the possibility of further suspensions to follow. Principal Kim Swift has described the incident as an act of vandalism. I’m pretty sure vandalism involves deliberate destruction of or damage to property. How were the kids to know the cafeteria was using military-grade ingredients? That is not to say that simply because you fail to think about the consequences of your actions you should not be responsible for them. Responsibility for one’s actions is certainly an important lesson to drill into the minds of high-school students, preferably before they reach college. However, vandalism and suspension seem like extreme responses to something as innocent as a food fight.

The seniors, who consciously planned the fight, were in all likelihood not scheming to have the walls and ceiling tiles in the cafeteria replaced. They wanted to let off a little steam at the end of 12 years of routine, daily academia. When it comes to senior pranks, a food fight registers pretty low on the scale of seriousness. My graduating class burned our graduation year into the south lawn of the school (something that should be considered vandalism), with what was either a high concentration of salt or muriatic acid. My classmates were inspired by the nearby rival Catholic high school, which annually burnt much more elaborate designs into the south lawn of their campus. The administration over at the Catholic school seemed amused by the efforts of seniors, as they allowed the inscription to remain on their grass all year, unlike our administration, which instantly had the desecrated grass replaced.

Furthermore, these seniors were in fourth grade in 2001. They were around 10 years old when the World Trade Center crumbled. They have been raised in a very uncertain time in which school shootings, rampant drug use, and teenage pregnancy are commonplace. What is more innocent, when compared with what they could be up to, than a food fight? They should be punished, no doubt. But as someone who is suffering from a bit of senioritis myself, suspension is a bit laughable. Mandated time off from school, score! Instead, the perpetrators should have been collected, shoved into HAZMAT suits, and forced to clean the mess they created. When that was accomplished, instead of barring them from classes, they should have been forced to serve several weeks of detention. There is no worse punishment for high-school seniors than forcing them to spend extra time in school.

Kids will be kids. I don’t have to deal with hordes of high-school students anymore, and I am not sure you could pay me to (even in these uncertain economic times). But when compared to with actual acts of vandalism, a food fight just does not register. Vandalism suggests conscious intent to damage property; these students just wanted to cause a bit of chaos. Let the punishment fit the crime. Sit the seniors down in a detention hall and force them to engage in some terrible, mind-numbing activity. Anything from creating posters about respecting the school to creating a skit for younger classes about the perils of senior pranks should do. And for the love of small children, find out what sort of ingredients they are using in the cafeteria.

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