By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND, May 13 (Reuters) - Six students accused of cutting down about two dozen trees with chainsaws for a senior prank at a high school in a small central Ohio town have been charged with felonies, a prosecutor said on Tuesday.
Five of the students, who are all 18 years old or older, are seniors at River Valley High School and all six have been charged with three counts each of vandalism and three counts each of aiding and abetting vandalism, Marion County Prosecutor Brian Yager said.
The tree-cutting incident earlier in May outraged residents of the town of Marion, about 50 miles north of Columbus, and generated offers of help in restoring the campus grounds, schools superintendent Jim Peterson said.
"Some people want to bring caning back as punishment," Peterson said of the reaction by some locals to the tree-cutting incident. The school had not yet decided on a punishment for the students, he added.
Yager said he hoped the students would accept a court diversion program open to first-time offenders, which would keep the felonies from ending up on their records.
"There were criminal acts, they crossed a line, but we hope they learn not to do dumb things and use their head next time,"
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday, he said. (Reporting by Kim Palmer in Cleveland; Editing by Brendan O'Brien and Andrew Hay)