By Bob Skolnik
Some members of the senior class at Riverside-Brookfield High School wanted to pull off a homecoming prank that topped anything that had ever been done in the past.
They succeeded in doing that, but in doing so brought embarrassment and negative attention to the school, including live reports from the school by Chicago television news reporters.
Students involved have faced consequences ranging from detentions to possible arrest.
Two students may soon be facing criminal charges. Principal Pamela Bylsma said that criminal complaints against two students were signed on Monday. Riverside police are continuing their own investigation before deciding whether to make any arrests.
"There's a lot of video to be reviewed," said Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel. "There's been a lot of interviews done. We have to conduct our own interviews because we have to meet a different threshold than the school."
Last week's "senior prank" went far beyond the normal toilet paper bombing of trees and bushes and writing slogans on sidewalks in shaving cream. Between $2,500 and $3,500 worth of damage to the school was caused, including damaging the locks of doors by spraying expandable insulating foam into the locks of several doors.
Pornographic photos were taped to trees in front of the school, some with the names of top school administrators and other staff scrawled on them. Depictions of male genitalia were spray painted on windows at the old main entrance on Ridgewood Road.
"I'm disappointed that the students took what is normally supposed to be a good-hearted tradition to show school spirit … into something that became distasteful and vulgar and insulting," Bylsma said. "The majority of our students did not participate, and there were many who were coming to do the one part of it, and they separated themselves immediately when they saw what was going on. … Some part of the group decided to turn it in a bad direction."
A cross section of the student body participated in the senior prank, according to Bylsma.
"There were some athletes, some kids involved in activities, some student leaders, some kids that are not engaged in school," Bylsma said. "You really had a mix of everything.
"I've been in this business long enough to know that students can make impulsive, bad choices, and you need to hold them accountable for their choices," she added.
Fourteen students have been suspended from school for their roles in the incident, with the penalties ranging from one to five days. In addition to those students, another 41 students were banned from Saturday's homecoming dance, and 41 students served an in-school detention during Friday's pep rally.
Four students were suspended for part of their athletic seasons for violating the school's athletic code of conduct, and four other students are being prohibited from engaging in extracurricular activities.
Students had varying reactions to the incident.
Some seniors seemed proud of the splash that they made, while others were dismayed. The incident and the reaction to it became a hot topic for discussion among students on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
"I think it's best to say it's going to be hard for any senior class to top us because we made the news," one senior tweeted after local television stations picked up on the story. "Everyone look at nbc.chicago."
A Facebook page devoted to the "senior prank" was created a couple days before the incident and had 54 members, mostly, if not entirely RB seniors.
The page said "Thursday night midnight. Wrecking the school."
Traditionally, the TPing occurs late on Thursday night during homecoming week. The school and the Riverside police have an informal agreement that police will not interfere with the TPing. Typically, Assistant Principal John Passarella is on hand during the TPing to make sure things don't get out of hand.
But this year the seniors decided to strike late Tuesday/early Wednesday to gain the element of surprise. In addition to the graphic images, some students also hauled old furniture, including old mattresses and a couch, and put them outside the Ridgewood entrance. Live chickens were placed in a play pen and left out in front of the school.
Some students were apparently only there for the TPing.
The creator of the Facebook senior prank page, a top athlete, tweeted that all he did was throw toilet paper.
"That's not vandalism," the senior tweeted. "Throwing toilet paper other stuff happened after I left that I wasn't a part of. If I really get in trouble for throwing toilet paper that's a joke."
While many of the students who showed up late Tuesday night were there to TP, others participated in the more destructive and disrespectful activities.
"It sounds like more than half the kids were there just to have an innocent senior night prank, just TPing the school and leave, and there were these other kids with their own agendas," said one RB student who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation. "TPing is fine. The vandalism was way too far — disrespectful to Ms. Bylsma and Mr. Passarella, who were on those images. I don't think it was right."
Skinkis said that he was disappointed in the actions of a few RB students.
"I think the senior prank was an unfortunate incident marked by the poor decision making of a small group of students," Skinkis said. "It does not reflect what we stand for here at Riverside-Brookfield High School or the behavior of the other 1,480 students that didn't get involved with the prank.
"The biggest concern I had from reviewing the security footage was how so many students between the age of 16 and 18 are out after 1 a.m. on a school night."
The president of the RB Student Association executive board said in an emailed statement that she was disappointed in the actions some of her classmates, but said that they did not ruin homecoming.
"It was hard knowing my own classmates disrespected the school the way they did," said SA President Isis Galindo. "This school has done so much for the students; the faculty here really make the possibilities infinite. It was tough knowing some students don't appreciate that, and rather disrespected the faculty the way they did. Although it was sad no being able to spend our last homecoming together, I believe homecoming was successful."
This story has been changed to clarify the number of students disciplined by the school's administration.