Two high school seniors from the Peoria Unified School District are suspended for "clowning around" on campus — joke school administrators did not think was funny.
One of the students brought a "scary" clown mask to school, the other put it on and went out into a hallway.
Witnesses said one girl got scared and thought the clown was going to attack her.
In a message to parents, school officials said the boys were being disruptive and running down halls.
Witnesses say that is not what happened.
Only one of the students was wearing a clown mask and went out into a hallway for two minutes.
Regardless, school officials said the mask violated the school dress code policy.
Outraged parents and students contacted ABC15 News saying the incident happened during Spirit Week, when many kids were dressed up in Western wear, or even as cows.
Some students feel if the district did not want students to wear clown masks they should have advised them before handing down harsh punishment.
Friends of the two students said they had been suspended for nine days.
"I think the punishment is ridiculous. A nine day suspension for a clown mask? Everyone breaks the dress code but they don't get suspended for nine days. This is just ridiculous," Centennial High School senior Brandon Easley saod.
Jayvan Devorce, another senior student agreed, saying that type of punishment was typically reserved for serious offenses.
"They basically act like it was a drug or a weapon, or like he had a knife or something, or weed. It's like nine days? Come on, man," Devorce said.
Tammie Bond, a concerned parent blasted the district for being so harsh on what was meant to be a silly prank.
"A lunch detention maybe, a week of detention?," Bond said. "If they were going to give suspensions for something like this, they should have sent something out beforehand, not after the fact."
Her daughter, Bailey, was friends with the students.
She said they felt bad about the incident, especially knowing that they would not be able to participate in homecoming activities or play in the last football games.
School spokeswoman Danielle Airey said students and parents should know masks are not part of the dress code. Especially with the heightened sensitivity surrounding clown threats at school districts throughout the nation, they did not find this funny.
"We don't allow kids to feel fearful in any way at school, and we don't allow students to be dressing in ways that are going to cause any kind of additional anxieties in our schools," Airey said.
Many are hoping the school rethinks the suspension and allows the boys back on campus.
The school district sent this letter to parents today:
"Dear Centennial Parents & Guardians:
As you may be aware, Centennial students disrupted the school day by wearing clown masks and running through the 800 building this morning. At Centennial High School, we take pride in our community. We know we have great students and great neighborhoods. Over the last several weeks, there have been several threats made to the safety of schools across the Valley and the United States via social media from fake accounts with a clown profile picture.
In Peoria Unified, we will not allow these types of disruptions to take place. The safety of our students and staff is our top priority. We take any and all threats very seriously. We hope these incidents will serve as a reminder to all students that a threat against an educational institution is a violation of state law.
Parents, please support our school by having a conversation with your child regarding the consequences of any threat or disruption of this kind. Those who are found participating in this at school or on social media could be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Thank you for your cooperation in helping us eliminate this type of negative behavior. We look forward to a safe, productive and exciting rest of the school year at Centennial High School. We expect both students and staff to Honor the Code. Working together, we can ensure that your students are safe and protected."