Nine students at a North Carolina high school were disciplined for participating in what they believed was a time-honored tradition at the school.
Students at Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough, North Carolina, planned a water balloon fight in the cafeteria during exam week on Jan. 8, according to the News and Observer. Hundreds of water balloons were reportedly stored all over the school that day.
However, the school's principal, Heather Blackmon, warned students not to participate in the fight.
"I made an announcement over the intercom that warned students that if we saw water balloons being thrown, the perpetrators would be suspended for five days and would have to take their exams on teacher work days," Blackmon wrote in an email to parents after the incident, according to the News and Observer.
She added that the fight was a "major safety concern for teachers and administrators."
In spite of Blackmon's warning, students began throwing water balloons in the packed cafeteria at the end of a lunch period that day.
School staff broke up the fight with the help of local sheriff's deputies who were called to the school.
Nine students were suspended as a result of the incident. Of these nine students, six received an out-of-school suspension and three were given an in-school suspension.
One of the suspended students was punished for having water balloons stored in his truck, although he did not actually participate in throwing them.
Many students and parents have expressed surprise and concern over the suspensions.
"The water balloon fight has been a tradition at the school for as far back as I can remember, and no one has heard any rules against it," Cedar Ridge father Ron Cooley, whose daughter was not involved in the fight, told the News and Observer.
"These five-day suspensions will go in the student's permanent records and will have an impact on college admissions and scholarships … even ones that are already approved," he added.
Rebeka Hardee, a 2013 Cedar Ridge graduate, said that the water balloon fight has been a tradition for seniors at the school since 2011 and had always been permitted in the past.
"All the principal would say is that we needed to clean up the balloons when we were done, and we always did," she said.
Although Blackmon and district superintendent Todd Wirt declined to comment on the students' punishments, the Orange County Schools Code of Conduct makes it clear that students who disobey directives from principals, teachers and other school personnel could be suspended.
"I know when I was in school, there was a senior day, spirit day and senior pranks, but if teachers put parameters on these events then the students need to follow them," Sheriff Charles Blackwood, one of the deputies who responded to the water balloon fight on Jan. 8, said.
This was not the first time students at a North Carolina high school were punished harshly for throwing water balloons.
In 2013, seven students and a parent were arrested at Enloe High School in Raleigh for participating in a water balloon fight as an end-of-year prank, WRAL reported at the time.
Six of the students were charged with disorderly conduct, while one was charged with assault and battery.