Many schools have some version of a tradition involving a senior prank. Kenowa Hills High School in Walker, Mich., has such a tradition, but this year’s seniors decided to do something creative, fun and non-destructive. Instead of painting lockers or blowing up a toilet or moving furniture to the top of the building — or any of the typical crazy high school ideas — these kids decided that they’d all ride bikes to their very last day of school.
About 60 seniors rode bikes that day. They talked to local police ahead of time, who had a car meet them for the mini-parade and ride behind them for safety. They even invited Mayor Rob VerHeulen, who joined and rode along with them in the police car. It sounds like a great idea. There was only one problem.
Nobody was taking into account the giant egos and control freakery of the school’s administration.
After the students got to school, principal Katie Pennington suspended all of them for the day, denying some of them the right to take their final exams. She didn’t let them participate in a local tradition called “senior walk” and she even threatened not to allow them to participate in graduation ceremonies — all because they legally rode bikes on public roads with a police escort. Why? Because nobody told her about it ahead of time.
The principal claims it was all about safety. She said the students were backing up traffic and causing others to be late for school. Oddly, police didn’t seem to see it as a safety issue. It was just the control freak principal, because nobody asked her permission. The local television station asked the school superintendent whether the suspensions were really about safety or if they were about showing the students who’s in charge.
“It’s a combination…certainly a combination of both,” the superintendent said.
Parents were understandably outraged. After a day of dealing with angry parents and an outraged public, the principal backed down and apologized. Her written apology (PDF) doesn’t sound really heartfelt to me, but who knows?
I’ve known of a lot of school administrators such as this principal. (Fortunately, I had a reasonable principal in high school who wasn’t looking to demonstrate his authority. If it hadn’t been for his relaxed attitude, I could have ended up in jail one night. But that’s another story.) For some reason, little Napoleons are frequently elevated to positions of power in schools. Their concerns seem to be about rules and control, not actual education or helping kids.
Someone needs to clip this principal’s wings — along with those of the superintendent. Someone needs to remind them that their job is to shepherd students, not act as prison guards.