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In the end, East pranksters allowed at graduation

June 5, 2009

After being arrested, suspended and briefly banned from commencement, the six Brookfield East High School seniors caught pulling an unusual prank were allowed to attend their graduation ceremony Saturday.

Elmbrook School District officials initially suspended the students, including the class valedictorian and salutatorian, for building a wooden swing set on the school roof June 3 as a senior prank. The suspension included the students' last day of school, June 3, and their Saturday graduation ceremony.

However, after several of the students' parents appealed the suspension, Elmbrook School District sent letters to each of the students partially rescinding the punishment and allowing them to participate in commencement activities.

Minimizing prank's impact

Nate Hoaglund, one of the students arrested, said he was satisfied with the compromise.

"Our intent of the prank was partially to show people that you could be clever with a prank and one-up the class from before without hurting anybody or damaging anything," Hoaglund said, adding: "This was the first time we had anything on our record in four years."

Administrators told the students they wanted to avoid a scene at graduation, and did not want to draw more attention to the prank, Hoaglund said.

Valedictorian Alexander Holiday was not permitted to address his classmates, as originally planned. Neither the valedictorian nor the salutatorian were recognized.

Students given fines

Hoaglund said he and the others used a ladder to gain access to the school's roof, where they built a swing set as a prank. They also left brownies and soda for custodians and administrators.

When they were nearly finished with the swing set, an overnight construction worker noticed the students and alerted a school custodian who called police and administrators. Police arrested the six 18-year-olds and issued $300 disorderly conduct tickets to each of them.

The next morning, the students were suspended.

In protest, classmates and community members started a Facebook group to rally support for the students. The group's population reached more than 350.

Appeal based on character

Parents appealed the decision to Superintendent Matt Gibson, who relented Friday afternoon.

Lindalayne Holiday was one of the parents who appealed the suspension, arguing that her son, valedictorian Alexander Holiday, and the other students involved were responsible students with clean records.

"Alexander has not been involved in drugs or alcohol during his four years at Brookfield East, nor has he ever been given a detention or suspension," she said in an e-mail, adding, "The other five young men involved also have stellar reputations regarding character and academics."

She said the students described the prank as an effort to raise school spirit and to thank administrative staff and custodians for their four years at East. The students had planned to donate the swing set to charity after the prank.

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