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65 Grand Rapids area students suspended for riding bikes to school

10:18 PM, May 22, 2012   |    comments
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  • 60 seniors at Kenowa High School were suspended for riding bikes to school
  • Kenowa Hills students and parents at school board meeting, May 22, 2012. (Photo by WZZM 13's Phil Dawson)
  • Kenowa Hills students and parents at school board meeting, May 22, 2012. (Photo by WZZM 13's Phil Dawson)
    

WALKER, Mich. (WZZM) -- It wasn't exactly an apology but, upon further review, administrators in Kenowa Hills Public Schools will not give any further punishment to dozens of graduating seniors who rode their bikes to school for the last day of classes.

In fact, the school administrators appear to be making amends for their initial reaction to Tuesday senior class "prank."

Students and parents filled Kenowa Hills Middle School Tuesday to protest the reaction to the bike ride. The school board had to move its scheduled work session from the district administration building to the middle school after the protesters showed up for the meeting.

"This has been a very difficult day," said Kenowa Hills superintendent Gerald Hopkins, "one we will learn from."

The seniors were sent home Tuesday morning after they arrived at the school -- a day when the graduating students traditionally get to make their final "walk" through the halls of Kenowa Hills High School.

The students had arranged their bicycle procession, which featured Walker Police and the city's mayor as escorts. Mayor Rob VerHeulen even brought doughnuts for the seniors.

"I got the idea talking to one of my teachers," said senior class president Zac Totten. "We ended up getting about 80 kids riding bikes to school."

When the students pedaled into the high school parking lot they were met by principal Katie Pennington. She suspended the seniors, saying they violated warnings against pranks on their last day.

"We have defined it as a prank all along," said Pennington. "They wouldn't be tolerated and there would be consequences."

"[I'm] disgusted it got this far," said one parent at Tuesday night's meeting.

"It should have been handled in a totally different way," said another parent.

The child of a Kenowa Hills school board member was among the students in the procession.

"My son is a senior," said Frank Hammond, the school board president. "He was on the bike ride."

Hammond assured the students and parents the punishment was over, and the ride would not affect graduation.

"The kids are going to walk across stage get their diplomas," said Hammond.

The controversy got the attention of "Gravy," one of the morning deejays at 105.3 Hot FM in Grand Rapids. He brought a gift for Principal Pennington -- a bicycle, to introduce her to the joys of cycling.

Sometimes in your job you don't get time to ride," said Gravy, who ride the new bike into the school board meeting. "It has a bell."

The district is also allowing the seniors another opportunity to say goodbye to classmates and teachers, rescheduling their walk through the school for May 30 -- the day they come back for commencement practice. The school is also allowing the students time to make up any final exams they missed Tuesday. 

_________________________________

According to the district website, Katie Pennington was named principal of Kenowa Hills High School less than one year ago, in July 2011.

She emailed the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

"At 7:00 AM today, I was made aware of the senior prank for the Class of 2012. About 65 of our seniors congregated near the intersection of Kinney Avenue and 3 Mile Road. As a group, they rode their bicycles and drove a golf cart to the high school. While I believe the students' intent was not malicious, this activity was extremely disruptive to traffic flow and the beginning of our school day. It was also potentially dangerous due to the traffic lanes that were used for this activity. Early this morning, the Walker Police Department was notified by the students who organized this activity; the police department was able to dispatch one cruiser to follow the group to school.

I initially met with the students involved in this prank in the Performing Arts Center when they arrived to school. I told them I was disappointed in their decision, and outlined the extreme danger in which they put themselves. I also dismissed them for the remainder of the school day. The large degree of concern on the part of the affected students and parents is the students missing the Senior Walk later this afternoon. Mr. Hopkins (our district superintendent), Mr. Smith (the high school assistant principal), and I met with the parents of these students for over two hours. At that point, we also spoke to the media representatives who had been called to the school. Once the three of us were able to debrief the situation, we made the following decision:

• We will not punish the seniors who did not participate in the senior prank. We will hold the senior walk for them and their parents this afternoon as originally scheduled.
• We will hold an additional senior walk on the morning of May 30 for the entire senior class. I will be mailing a letter home to senior parents to outline the new timeline for the morning of the 30th. I will also be posting relevant information on the school's website.
• The seniors involved in today's prank will not be in the building for the remainder of the instructional day.

On a positive note, many of the seniors involved in this prank immediately acknowledged the potential danger of their idea, and apologized for not involving building administration from the outset. Mr. Hopkins, Mr. Smith, and I are in agreement that this could have been the beginning of a nice tradition and a much safer event had we known about it in advance.

If you have any questions about the above information, please let me know."

Contact information for Kenowa Hills High School can be found here.

Reported by Phil Dawson in Walker

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