Senior Prank Causes Stir

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 3:08pm

Parents furious after principal suspends students for organizing bicycle ride to school.

Angry parents and students flooded a Michigan school board meeting Tuesday night with harsh words for the high school principal.

They were upset because Principal Katie Pennington sent home dozens of Kenowa Hills High School seniors after they organized a bike ride to school instead of a more traditional, and perhaps more harmful, senior prank.

So many students and parents packed the meeting, originally scheduled as a routine work session, in the administration building that it had to be moved to the middle school auditorium.

Parents' reactions were passionate as they came down hard on Pennington for how she handled the situation.

"The disruption to the classroom, the disruption to the school day, was not these kids," said Keri Whip, the parent of a Kenowa Hills senior. "It was the principal."

Pennington sent home the group of about 60 seniors who organized a bike ride to school Tuesday morning, their last day in the high school.

The students didn't inform administration, but had a police escort.

Dianne Schwaiger, a parent of a senior, said that she was in contact with Walker police last week to help organize the ride.

She said she supports her child having participated in the ride.

The mayor even showed up with doughnuts.

But Pennington said the ride put students in danger, tied up traffic and prevented staff from getting to school.

One senior recorded the principal on a cell phone as she laid into students for their actions.

"If you and your parents don't have sense enough to know your brains could end up splattered on Three Mile and Kinney, Fruit Ridge, then maybe that's my responsibility," Pennington said. "...Get your butts home. You're not participating in senior walk today."

About 60 seniors got the day off and missed the traditional last walk through the hallways at Kenowa Hills, though students say many more seniors received the one-day suspensions.

"They came up with a very cool thing to do that you guys as administrators could have gone and run with this and made this a positive thing with the media," said another parent, Cheryl Carter.

Other parents said Tuesday night that they were "disgusted" and thought Pennington's reaction was "ridiculous."

The seniors were at first were told they wouldn't walk with their class at graduation -- a decision that was later reversed.

Class president Zac Totten, one of the main organizers of the senior bike ride, told the board he appreciated that administrators backed off their original threat.

"And I really want to apologize to Mrs. Pennington," said Totten. "She's taken a lot of heat for this and this is a great school, and this school is getting some bad press."

Superintendent Gerald Hopkins addressed the crowd, saying he would have supported the students' bike ride if only they would have informed administration ahead of time.

He said the absence will not count against students who were sent home today and those who missed final exams will be able to make them up

Principal Katie Pennington later issued the following apology to parents and students:

“Yesterday, I made a mistake and sincerely regret my actions. Did I overreact? In retrospect, of course I did. My first response to learning of our high school seniors riding bikes to school on busy roads was to fear for their safety, and I responded in kind. I apologize to the students, their parents, and the community for a reaction that blew this incident out of proportion and called into question the character of our students. Our senior class has demonstrated leadership, unity and school pride throughout this school year. My actions and emotion overshadowed what should have been a very positive senior activity. I have learned much from this experience and do not consider myself infallible.
“I now applaud the students for their foresight in contacting the police department to ensure the safety of their senior surprise. I only wish the police department or others who may have known about this would have let us in on the surprise but, of course, it wouldn’t have been a surprise had we known in advance.
“I look forward to our second ‘Senior Walk’ and our Commencement for this senior class. It will be a celebration of their accomplishment and recognition of their creativity.”

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