An investigation into how a Walker police officer handled a …
Updated: Wednesday, 23 May 2012, 8:28 PM EDT
Published : Wednesday, 23 May 2012, 2:22 PM EDT
WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) - In a written statement, Kenowa Hills High School Principal Katie Pennington said she regrets her actions following Tuesday's senior bike parade.
"Did I overreact? In retrospect ... of course I did," the statement reads in part.
About 60 seniors were sent home on their last day after they decided to forgo the standard senior prank and instead surprise administrators by riding their bikes from city hall to the school -- about a three-mile trek down busy roads.
Their traditional last walk through the hallways was canceled, then rescheduled.
School officials, including Pennington, didn't know about the parade.
In person, she shed some light on the reason behind her reaction.
"There was some emotion yesterday on my part, and I'm not going to deny that I was very visceral." Pennington told 24 Hour News 8. "I have two kids of my own I've seen car accidents, even this school year right outside our student parking lot."
In the statement, Pennington and Superintendent Gerald Hopkins offered apologies for their reaction to the parade.
The tone was much more conciliatory than the audio caught by a student on her cell phone as Pennington addressed students soon after the ride Tuesday.
"That's it. The short and sweet: Call and get your butts home. You're not participating in senior walk today," Pennington scolded the 60 or so seniors who made the ride. "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."
Traffic tie-ups and student safety were concerns, even though Walker police were bringing up the rear.
Students had made all the arraignments. They even contacted Walker Mayor Rob VerHuelen, who rode in the police car.
Pennington says she and Hopkins made the decision to send seniors home.
"It was absolutely a joint decision," said Pennington. "Hopkins and myself conferred on this very early in the morning yesterday... and he agreed with the decision to send the students home for the day."
But on Wednesday, Pennington admitted she didn't have all the facts.
"I'm not sure we would have sent the kids home if we had had all of the information available to us," she said. "That was part of the issue -- that we were forced to react because we didn't know."
The decision brought outraged students and their parents to an already-scheduled school board work session Tuesday night.
Pennington wasn't there and she said the meeting had no bearing on her decision to apologize.
And there's some debate over her and Hopkin's reaction to safety concerns.
Students had approached someone in the Walker Police department last week.
Whether the officer -- who was not the same one assigned to the parade -- was asked in passing or was actually involved in the planning is unclear. Walker Public Safety Chief Catherine Garcia-Lindstrom is investigating.
What is clear is that the request didn't make it up the chain of command.
Garcia-Lindstrom said if it had, the parade would likely have gone on, but with additional safety precautions.
"We would have assigned dedicated personnel," said Garcia-Lindstrom. "More than one, certainly."
As for Pennington, she said she hopes the apology begins a new chapter.
She's planning on attending next Wednesday's commencement ceremony. She's even thinking of injecting some humor.
"This is a happy time for them. I don't want this to mar what is an absolutely wonderful moment in their lives," said Pennington. "I think I owe it to the senior class to give them a very classy, memorable commencement. And I'm fine if I make fun of myself a little bit along the way."
She hopes the apologies and other actions help pull everyone together.
"Emotionally, for myself included, it's been an emotional 24 hours," she said. "I know that it will take time to heal."
Statement from Principal Pennington and Superintendent Hopkins (pdf)
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