Michigan high school seniors punished for organizing group bike ride to school 1Instead of a traditional senior prank, students at Kenowa Hills High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan organized a bike parade as a fun, healthy way to celebrate their last days before graduating. They secured police officers to escort the group of riders and even got the local mayor to participate (he contributed to the ride by bringing donuts for the students). You’d think a high school would be proud of their students for organizing a great activity that promotes wellness and safety, but the principal was less than thrilled about the event and has resorted to punishing the seniors responsible.

Apparently, because school officials were not told about the bike parade, the school is treating the event as a “prank” and the principal, Katie Pennington, sent the seniors home on their last day of school. She was caught on video instructing students, “…Get your butts home. You’re not participating in senior walk today.” Principal Pennington even threatened to prevent the seniors from walking in their graduation ceremony on May 30th. In total, about 60 seniors were sent home and missed a traditional “last walk through the hallways” of their high school.

It seems as if Principal Pennington was more concerned about the school’s liability above anything else. She was recorded as saying, “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.” It’s understandable that she would be concerned about the students’ safety, but considering how well organized the event was and the fact that a police escort was present, she seemed to overreact. Even the superintendent admitted that the school officials’ reaction and the punishment they devised for the students was partially to remind them who’s in charge and partially because of the “prank.”

Negative publicity has forced the school to rescind its threat of keeping the seniors responsible from walking at graduation, but their initial reaction is still disappointing. Principal Pennington has been sending out the following response to people contacting the school to criticize their handling of the parade:

I appreciate you contacting me, and giving me the opportunity to give you the most accurate information to date.

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.

Katie Pennington

Principal

Kenowa Hills High School

You can argue that the parade disrupted traffic and made students and staff late for school, but come on, it was the last day of school. Let the students have a little fun. As for the potential danger risk of riding to school, the school’s reaction could have been handled much differently. Yes, there’s a risk of danger associated with cycling, but punishing students for riding their bikes is not the message that should be sent. Bike safety should be addressed and highlighted, but so should acknowledging and praising the students for their efforts to bring attention to cycling as a means of transportation and exercise. Cycling awareness will help educate students about bike safety and how to navigate through streets and share the road with vehicles and other cyclists safely and efficiently. Blindly dismissing all cycling efforts as being dangerous is, ironically, posing a risk to students because it’s instilling a fear of cycling as a dangerous and unworthy activity or it’s keeping them ignorant to how one can enjoy cycling while also being safety-conscious and knowing the rules of the road.

Principal Pennington viewing some students’ remorse of the event and apology for participating in the parade as a “positive note” is appalling–she’s coming off as a bully who handled the situation poorly. The event, while not without its flaws, could have been a positive and empowering experience for the high school seniors and a great example to other students about having fun while being responsible, safe, and healthy. Instead, the students are being punished for no good reason because of the school’s ignorance and self-serving interests.

photo credit: chdot via photo pin cc

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Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.