Parents were furious after a principal suspended students for organizing bicycle ride to school. WOOD's Marc Thompson reports.
Prank or proud moment? For the 64 high school seniors in Walker, Mich., who marked their last day of classes by riding bikes -- with a police escort and the mayor in tow -- it was all about school pride and staging a "prank" with no damage. But to Kenowa Hills High Principal Katie Pennington -- who had no idea what was coming -- it was a prank that could have hurt someone and tied up traffic.
Pennington on Wednesday did apologize for overreacting but, needless to say, the incident has been the talk of the town, population 24,000 -- and even overtook a routine school board meeting Tuesday night as parents spoke up to criticize Pennington.
"The disruption to the classroom, the disruption to the school day, was not these kids," Keri Whip, the parent of one senior, told the meeting, according to NBC affiliate WOOD-TV. "It was the principal."
Seniors "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.
Wednesday afternoon, the school district released an apology on Pennington's behalf:
“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.”
After the incident Tuesday morning, Pennington ushered the seniors into an auditorium, where part of her tirade was recorded on a cellphone video. In it she refers to the busy streets nearby and to the traditional senior walk through school on the last day of classes.
"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," WOOD-TV reported her as saying. "... Get your butts home. You're not participating in senior walk today."
The seniors said they were also told they might not be allowed to walk with their class at graduation, but the school district later said that was not the case.
Class president Zac Totten, who helped organize the ride, did speak up for Pennington, who did not attend, and thanked the school for backing off the graduation threat.
"I really want to apologize to Mrs. Pennington," he said. "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 told the meeting that the district would have supported the bike ride if students had alerted officials ahead of time.
Senior students said having told the school would have defeated the purpose of their non-violent "prank."
The one-day suspension will not count against students, Hopkins said, and those who missed final exams will be able to make them up.
And the senior walk has been rescheduled to May 30.
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