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Timberlane superintendent's reasons for removing student protesters 'asinine' says critic

Union Leader Correspondent

April 13. 2018 1:57PM
Timberlane Regional High School students hold signs along Greenough Road Wednesday during a demonstration over possible staff cuts. (COURTESY)

PLAISTOW — The superintendent of the Timberlane Regional School District is defending his decision to have a small group of student demonstrators removed from school grounds during a peaceful protest over possible staffing cuts Wednesday night.

Approximately 15 to 20 students and adults with signs of support gathered outside the school administrative offices at 30 Greenough Road around 6:30 p.m., but police ordered them to leave the property and move their vehicles out of the parking lot.

The demonstration was held amid uncertainty over whether dozens of teachers and other staff members will get pink slips because of a budget shortfall.

Plaistow resident Kathy Slade — one of the adults who participated in the protest — said they had to park elsewhere because they were told they were not allowed to park on school property, including at the high school next door even though it was after hours.

“I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed,” she said.

Superintendent Dr. Earl Metzler has said that more than 50 staff positions could be cut after voters defeated the proposed $72.8 million school budget for next year. The defeat forces the district to operate with a default budget of $71.9 million.

Metzler has described the default budget as “significantly underfunded,” which means the district is short $700,000 for special education, $500,000 for transportation and $350,000 for food service.

Metzler said the reason why he didn’t allow the demonstrators on school property was because the group had not communicated with him directly before the event to explain exactly what was planned and how many people would be participating.

Metzler said if the organizers “took the responsible precautions and notified us, we certainly would have assisted,” he said.

Metzler said it all came down to the safety of students and protecting school buildings and property.

He said neither he nor anyone else from the administration planned to be at the office during the demonstration and he was concerned about what could happen if a large group gathered and there were problems.

“We had no idea of the magnitude,” he said.

Metzler contacted Police Chief Kathleen Jones earlier in the day to discuss the issue and explained in an email to her that while he “respects the value of citizen voice and the right to demonstrate, he directs the demonstration not be permitted on school district property.”

Metzler also stated that while he felt the demonstration would be “civil and peaceful,” he was still obligated to “ensure all district properties are safeguarded from any threat of disruption or damage.”

After they were ordered off the property, the group ended up standing along the side of the road with their signs.

Slade said she felt that moving them to the road created more of a safety hazard.

“We were only allowed to stand basically on the shoulder of the road. If he was worried about safety, why put us on the side of the road?” she said.

Stefanie Dube, a Danville resident who recently resigned from the Timberlane Regional School Board, also joined the protest and expressed her disappointment that they weren’t allowed on school property.

“I personally think it’s asinine to ask students who were demonstrating peacefully to park off-site and relocate off premises. We pay taxes, this is school property, paid for by those taxes and this was nothing more than the superintendent trying to manage the message. The kids stood out there for almost an hour in the cold and they should be very proud of themselves, as we in the community are proud of how they are standing up for their teachers,” Dube said.

Metzler did praise the students for their support, saying, “I think it’s absolutely awesome that the students are going to bat for their teachers.”

The school district has a student protest policy, but it only addresses demonstrations that occur during school hours.

Metzler pointed to another policy that gives the administration the authority to ask any visitors who show up without permission to leave school grounds, even when school isn’t in session.

Education Local and County Government Plaistow

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