IHAD feelings of nostalgia after reading about the

Lehigh Valley high-school students whose senior prank involved camping out in a school courtyard, though school administrators didn't share my yearning for a rerun of "American Graffiti." I get their post-Columbine dilemma, but disagree with the punishment they imposed.

Even in the current complicated world, where Virginia Tech is known for something more evil than Beamerball, it's still possible to separate the silly from the serious. All it takes is a look at other senior pranks perpetrated over recent years to realize the relative tameness of the Lehigh Valley prank.

Richmond Hill High School, Queens, N.Y.: "Uncontrollable." That's how one student described the perpetrators of a chaotic senior prank on Friday. Apparently the prank was organized on the Internet the night before, and the group ran roughshod through the school's second- floor hallway, coating it with everything from baby powder to barbecue sauce to shaving cream.

"The teachers were going crazy," a 17-year-old said. "They were trying to kick the kids out of the building. The kids were throwing rice, corn. I have a lot of baby powder on me." Ten students were arrested, though reports indicated hundreds were involved. Windows were reportedly broken and computers damaged. "I'm sorry a couple of kids had to act stupid," one teacher said.

Same sort of thing happened the final day of my junior-high experience in Bucks County. Some farm kids brought cattle dung to school and spread it in the hallways. It was over the line then, and remains so today.

Student grade: D.

Menlo-Atherton High, Atherton, Calif. A group of West Coast pranksters went high tech earlier this month, creating a phony automated message informing 1,700 classmates that due to "potential hazards" resulting from a "serious electrical failure," classes wouldn't begin until third period. It worked. Most students stayed home until 9:30 a.m. And because organizers enlisted an Israeli friend to initiate the calls (via an online service) and used an untraceable gift card to pay for it, they didn't get caught.

Risk-free, and the fact that they went to such lengths to plan it earns them bonus points. Political operatives with misleading robo-calls up their sleeves are taking notes.

Student grade: A.

Radford High, Radford, Va. Half the senior class donned short shorts circa 1980s NBA games, geeky track suits or fishnet stockings in a last-ditch effort to violate the school's dress code. Harmless, if a little strange. Then again, high school can be a confusing time.

Student grade: B.

Lake Highlands High, Richardson, Texas. In 2006, two students added a secret ingredient (marijuana) to the muffins they gave out to teachers. They claimed the treat was part of an Eagle Scout project. Soon they were facing felony charges (later reduced) - a terrorism task force was called in to investigate - and they ended up with several years of probation. Nineteen school employees were sent to the hospital for observation.

Sure, it turned out to be Johnson grass, not jihad. But pot was (and despite Gov. Schwarzenegger's musings, still is) illegal, and any prank that results in a hospital visit is off limits.

Student grade: D.

Hendrick Hudson High, Montrose, N.Y. In 2007, 19 students were accused of orchestrating a bomb scare. They bought dozens of alarm clocks, wrapped them in duct tape so they couldn't be turned off, set them for 9:15 a.m. and placed them around the school.

The problem? The students broke in on a Sunday night to set up the clocks. When cops responded, they mistook the prank for a bomb plot. The students deserve extra credit for creativity, but this was predictably problematic. The fact that they used a key that had gone missing a year earlier indicates the plan might have been in the making for a long time.

Student grade: C.

Southern Lehigh High, Center Valley, Pa. Seventeen seniors scaled a wall, crossed the school roof and camped out in a grassy, enclosed courtyard usually off limits. No damage. No booze. No drugs. Nobody got hurt.

But administrators imposed a five-day suspension and threatened to remove three students from the National Honor Society. Two students who sent an e-mail of protest to the Morning Call newspaper were also suspended. (Their suspensions were eventually reduced.)

Truly benign stuff, and totally unworthy of the punishments meted out. The Southern Lehigh kids obeyed the two basic rules of senior pranks: Nobody gets hurt, and nothing gets vandalized.

Student grade: B+.

Here's hoping political correctness doesn't stamp out an important part of the high-school experience - the appropriate practical joke. *

Listen to Michael Smerconish 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at www.mastalk.com.