INDIANA — Many reporters cover the actions of criminalsand wrongdoers, but few expect to be punished along with them.
But when a high school journalist photographed 25 of his peersengaging in a senior prank during the school day, he receivedthe same suspension they did and had the roll of film documentinghis work confiscated.
In what Plainfield High School principal William Wakefieldcalled a planned prank, 25 fully clothed seniors jumped into thedarkened school swimming pool at around 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday.The prank occurred during a passing period between classes andwithin seconds of the plunge, hundreds of students in the hallwayclamored around a glass enclosure surrounding the pool to geta glimpse of the soaked students, Wakefield said.
Jason Pearce, an editor at the Quaker Shaker, said hehad heard about the prank earlier in the week and signed out acamera from newspaper adviser Michelle Burris’ office on theoff-chance that it went ahead.
"I figured like it was kind of insignificant and it wouldn’tbe that big of a deal," Pearce said, adding that rumors aboutafter-school senior pranks are common. "But since it wastaking place during school, and during a passing period whichwould not be during a class that I would have to disrupt or anything,I thought well you know I might as well just take a camera andgo down there and check it out."
Pearce said he followed the students down to the pool areahoping to get exclusive photos of the prank for the school newspaper,and took two or three shots by the time administrators arrivedon the scene and broke up the prank.
The administrators confiscated the camera from Pearce and refusedto give him the film before taking his name and sending him backto class, he said.
Wakefield said he suspended Pearce along with the prankstersbecause he was in an off-limits area of the building without theprior permission of his journalism adviser or the administrationto cover the story. His presence was "inciting kids jumpingin the pool," Wakefield said.
"[Pearce] was down in the pool," Wakefield said."He wasn’t standing in the hall, he was one of the firstones there before the kids started running in and jumping in,so he was obviously in on it. So, that’s why we [suspended him]."
Allison Plessinger, a journalism professor at nearby ButlerUniversity, said she was outraged at Wakefield’s decisionto suspend Pearce along with the pranksters.
"The idea that the reporter caused this to happen by havinga camera is ludicrous," Plessinger said. Former Plainfieldstudents that Plessinger has taught at Butler have given her theimpression that Wakefield has "essentially violated studentpress laws all over the place, just not been particularly supportiveand certainly not understanding of the role of the student press,"she said.
Wakefield and the administrators suspended Pearce and the 25pranksters for the remainder of that school day and five moredays. In addition, he confiscated the film from the school-ownedcamera Pearce used.
Kelly Lewis-Walls, editor of the Quaker Shaker saidthat she would publish the photos if she got the film, becauseshe said Pearce had captured a breaking story that she felt wasnewsworthy.
Pearce said he does not yet know if he plans to take actionagainst the school, and awaits the results of a meeting with thesuperintendent on Friday to make a decision.
Pearce said he thought it was "necessary to make a bigdeal about this. I think the only way I’d probably go ahead andfight it would be if [the administration] doesn’t compromise."