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Principal on bikers: "Did I overreact? Of course I did" | Education

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Principal on bikers: "Did I overreact? Of course I did"

UPDATE (11:00 P.M. Wednesday) - The principal of Kenowa Hills High School says she will learn from her mistakes.

Principal Katie Pennington is apologizing for what she calls an over-reaction Monday morning, when at least 60 seniors came to school on bicycles.

Before she knew they had the blessing of the police department and a squad car escort, the principal sent the riders home, depriving them of their last day in high school.

"I was simultaneously overjoyed to see that they were okay and then really angry," she explains. "By the time they got here I think I had worked myself into a little bit of a 'mother hen' frenzy. I apologize for being overly emotional and I certainly don't think that's my style."

Even before her apology, senior class president and bike ride organizer Zac Totten was ready to forgive.

"We kind of surprised her and we probably should have told her beforehand," says Totten. "Mrs. Pennington is a great principal, she just overreacted a little bit."

Mrs. Pennington says she has learned a valuable lesson.

"I have learned to try to gather as many facts as possible before reacting," she says. "This is going to sit with me for a long time. Not just the lessons I've learned but the strengthened relationships I have with some people and the severed relationships I need to rebuild with others."

In spite of warnings issued Monday, no senior will be barred from next week's graduation because they rode a bike to school.

Mrs. Pennington and other administrators are thinking about the best way to address what she now calls the "senior surprise" at the commencement ceremony.

WALKER, Mich. (WZZM) -- The principal of Kenowa Hills High School is offering her apologies for suspending graduating seniors for riding bikes to school on their final day of classes, saying she overreacted.

Katie Pennington issued a statement Wednesday on the Kenowa Hills Public Schools website, saying, "I made a mistake and sincerely regret my actions."

"There are 1,100 students in the school, and I take their safety extremely close to heart," says Pennington in an interview with WZZM 13.  "Just waiting for them to arrive at the high school, there was a little bit of a pit-in-your-stomach kind of feeling, hoping they were going to get their safe."

The seniors organized the mass bike ride, with 65-80 students taking part.  They even arranged to have a Walker Police escort.  Walker Mayor Rob VerHeulen was part of the escort, and brought doughnuts for the students.

But when the students arrived at the school, Pennington told them they had blocked traffic and put their safety at risk.  She announced the cycling seniors were suspended for the day and would not be allowed to take part in the tradition of taking part in a final walk through the school.  She also told the students they may not be able to take part in graduation ceremonies.

Previous Coverage: School ends punishment of cycling seniors

Later in the day, Kenowa Hills administrators backed off that stance, saying the seniors who had taken part in the bike ride would be allowed to take part in graduation.  They would also hold their final walk through the school on May 30, and any students who missed final exams would be allowed to make up the tests.

Seniors and their parents packed a Kenowa Hills school board meeting Tuesday night, complaining about the treatment of the students.

In her statement on Wednesday, Pennington says she was still concerned about the seniors' safety, but, "I now applaud the students for their foresight in contacting the police department to ensure the safety of their senior surprise."

On Wednesday, Walker Public Safety director Catherine Garcia-Lindstrom issued a statement, saying her office was looking into who knew about the bike ride within the department.  Garcia-Lindstrom said the officer who provided escort was not being investigated.  The director said that they needed to determine who else within the department knew about the escort because supervisors may not have been briefed on the plan.

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Statement from Kenowa Hills High School Principal Katie Pennington regarding the bicycle ride on the final day of class for seniors, May 22, 2012:
"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."

Statement from Kenowa Hills Public Schools Superintendent Gerald Hopkins:
"Our first responsibility is for the safety of our students, and I certainly support Katie's initial concern for their wellbeing. The decision to send participating students home was one that was jointly made by Katie and me based on the information we had at the time.
"As I look back on this incident, I realize this was an adult problem, not a student problem. The adults in school administration, the police department and city administration didn't communicate as well as they could, and I take responsibility as the superintendent for ensuring better communication in the future. We will learn from this and be stronger for it. I apologize to the students, parents and community for not having arrived at a better solution.
"I have spoken with Mayor VerHeulen, and we pledge to continue working together in the best interest of the community.
"I'm sure our seniors will be successful as they ride off into the future, which is our goal for all of them, and I look forward to celebrating their accomplishments at our Commencement exercises later this month."