Aberdeen High School students are planning a protest on Monday that they hope will save Principal Tom Szerensits from being demoted and reassigned next year by Dr. Robert M. Tomback, superintendent of Harford County Public Schools.
In an April 29 farewell letter to the Aberdeen High School community, Principal Szerensits wrote that Superintendent Tomback told him he was being removed as principal next year because the school “needed to move in a new direction,” and he would be transferred within HCPS but would no longer be a principal. The longtime HCPS employee and Aberdeen principal added that the superintendent’s decision “has very nearly crushed my spirit.”
Calling it a personnel matter, HCPS has declined to comment specifically on the move, citing legal constraints. As reported earlier by The Dagger, Joppatowne High School Principal Macon Tucker is also being removed from his post.
At school on Friday, Aberdeen students invited other students and their parents to join a demonstration, handing out a flyer that called the decision to remove Szerensits “terribly wrong” and saying that the action Monday is intended as a “tribute to Mr. Szerensits” and a “walk out/peaceful protest.” The flyer asks students to rally in a campus parking lot at 7:30 a.m. Information provided to The Dagger indicates that the protesters plan to remain outside during part or all of the school day and that a sit-in is also being considered at a scheduled school board meeting later that evening.
Also on Friday, sources said that Principal Szerensits made an announcement urging students not to miss class time and to focus on the upcoming Maryland High School Assessments, but didn’t specifically mention the protest.
Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for HCPS said that students who are not in school because of the protest will be marked with an unexcused absence and she denied rumors that the school would be locked down to keep students from leaving. “We expect a normal instructional day on Monday,” Kranefeld told The Dagger.
By the weekend, a “Save Szerensits” Facebook page where plans were being formed had garnered over 800 fans, including students, alumni and other adults. Some advised against the school-day protest and urged supporters to attend the scheduled school board meeting Monday at 7 p.m. at the A.A. Roberty Building in Bel Air.
School board policy allows for peaceful student assembly on school property within limits set by school authorities, and also allows the principal to seek further discipline in cases of unexcused absences, tardiness or truancy.
Below are excerpts from the school board policy on student rights of assembly and student discipline, followed by the text of the student flyer, a copy of which was obtained by The Dagger for publication.
“Student Rights and Responsibilities – Assembly
Students have the right to assemble peacefully. There is an appropriate time and place for the expression of opinions and beliefs. Students who wish to assemble must recognize the rights of fellow students who do not wish to participate in such activities.
Therefore, school authorities have a right to set reasonable limits as to the time, place, and manner of such activities to ensure proper protection of the school community. The student has the responsibility to ensure that all student meetings in school buildings or on school grounds are approved in advance by the principal.
Discipline Policies – Introduction
In addition to these policies, the school principal has the right and authority to discipline students including suspension and referral to the superintendent of schools for further action for other behaviors including but not limited to physical attack on a student, verbal or physical threat to a student, fighting, extortion, sexual assault, sexual activity, false alarms/bomb threats, explosives, disrespect, insubordination, harassment, classroom disruption, inciting or participating in a disturbance, class cutting, tardiness, truancy, academic dishonesty/cheating, theft, trespassing, unauthorized sale or distribution, vandalism/destruction of property, and refusal to obey school rules.”
The complete text of a flyer that students at Aberdeen High School handed out at school Friday is listed below. Information to The Dagger indicated students handed out about 1,200 copies and were met with some resistance from school administration:
“AS EVERYONE IS WELL AWARE MR. SZERNSITS HAS LOST HIS JOB AS PRINCIPLE HERE AT ABERDEEN HIGH SCHOOL. MANY OF US FEEL THAT THE DECISION THE BOARD OF EDUCATION HAS MADE IS TERRIBLY WRONG. MR. SZERENSITS HAS BEEN AN INSPIRATION TO ALL OF US, A LEADER AND TAUGHT US TO DO THE RIGHT THING. SO IN TRIBUTE TO MR. SZERENSITS AND AS AN EFFORT TO HELP KEEP MR. SZERNSITS IN HIS POSITION AT ABERDEEN HIGH SCHOOL WE WILL BE HAVING A WALK OUT/ PEACEFUL PROTEST TO KEEP MR. SZERENSITS IN HIS POSITION. WE WANT THE BOARD OF EDUCATION TO KNOW HOW IMPORTANT MR. SZERENSITS IS TO US. WALK OUT/ PROTEST WILL BE AT 7:30 AM, MONDAY, MAY 9 2011 IN THE STUDENT/TEACHER PARKING LOT. THIS PROTEST IS NOT ONLY FOR STUDENTS BUT PARENTS AS WELL IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SUPPORT MR. SZERENSITS PLEASE COME ON OUT.
*LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD!!!!!!!!!