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Irate parents lead off Farwell BOE meeting

Deanna Cotton pleads with the Farwell School Board to reverse a sports suspension and allow her daughter to play softball.

Deanna Cotton pleads with the Farwell School Board to reverse a sports suspension and allow her daughter to play softball.

Farwell’s first monthly Board of Education meeting started out Monday with parents, friends and family pleading with, arguing with and shouting at the board over what they called unfair actions against a couple of high school students.

Family and friends of one student, who recently transferred to Timberland Alternative School, were upset when they learned he would not be able to attend the prom without an invitation and that he would not be able to walk with his class at graduation.

An Aunt, Judy Hartley said, “He should be allowed to go to the prom and graduate with his class. He has made the effort [to attend school] every day. Let him walk with his classmates and be proud.”

Superintendent Carl Seiter said Timberland students are separate from the high school with their own graduation ceremony. The student, Logan, had recently transferred to Timberland for academic reasons.

An Uncle, Derick Smith said, “He has never caused any trouble in school.” Both he and Logan’s father asked the board, “Please consider our request.”

Deanna and Keith Cotton, parents of a senior Kayla, were also at the meeting to plead the case of their daughter’s suspension from sports.

According to a Facebook post, their daughter was suspended from participating in sports last fall after school officials learned of an altercation with two young men the parents both said were harassing her constantly.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Seiter said, “Legally I can’t comment on the circumstances for either student.”

During a September 1 meeting [not on school property] with the two men, that the student and a friend and family members attended, an altercation developed that led to the October 1 arrest of Kayla, 17, Keith Cotton, 47, Ryan Simmons, 18, Derrik Cotton, 21, Nicholas Simmons, 19, and Cody Bauer, 20 on charges of felonious assault, assault and battery and enticement to riot according to information from the Clare County Sheriff’s Department.

The complaint was filed by Joseph Megan and Daniel Carman, warrants were issued and the six charged turned themselves in and posted bond, Sheriff John Wilson said. They were arraigned the week of October 7.

A decision was made by the school administration in October to suspend Kayla from two seasons of sports or 180 calendar days, a post on Facebook said.

Deanna said according to the on-line handbook, the handbook did not say 180 school calendar days, but just 180 calendar days and the suspension should now be finished. She also said the other student involved in the incident met with the board and he was allowed to play football.

At the meeting Seiter said the on-line handbook was outdated and the handbook signed by Kayla at the beginning of the school year did say 180 school calendar days. The website handbook information has since been corrected, he said. “He also said the school protocol for appeal of the decision was not followed up in the required time. “They did everything except make an appeal to the school board,” he said.

At the meeting he said, “Neither one of these [requests] followed proper protocol before coming to the board.”

“We chose Farwell Schools,” Deanna said. “This was a first offense and punished as a second offense.” She also said a Farwell teacher and coach had talked about the incident in front of other students, which she said is a clear violation in the handbook. “Bullying by a teacher and coach is degrading,” she said. “We are here to ask the board to overturn the decision and allow her to play her favorite sport – softball.”

In a Facebook post, Deanna wrote, “All kids, no matter who they are should always get a fair chance and be treated equally. So many kids in school have had first, second and third chances and are still able to play even though they have had MIPs or other incidents that have happened. My daughter had this one think happen and her whole senior year has been ruined…”

Kayla’s employer, Sarah Shepherd, spoke urging the board to reconsider. “I don’t think children should be held to such a high standard when staff isn’t held to their standards,” she said.

Former coach Stacy Gate also spoke on Kayla’s behalf. “Sports teaches moral values,” she said. “I find this unfair, making a first offense into a second offense. Be fair to the kid, she isn’t going to learn good values by eliminating [her participation in] sports.”

In a letter to the board, Kayla wrote, “Thank you for listening to my appeal. These two guys have been harassing me before and after this happened.  I’m asking the board to reconsider the decision.”

The meeting became heated when Keith Cotton insisted that the information on the website, 180 calendar days, was changed because of their complaint, although Seiter repeated that the website information was “outdated” and that Kayla had signed the new handbook with the corrected information at the beginning of the year.

Later in the meeting, Cotton returned to the meeting and apologized to the board for becoming upset.

Board member Duffy Doxtader said the matter would have to be on the board agenda before they could take any action. Both parents, Deanna and Keith said they were not told that in time for Monday’s meeting, but would request to be on the agenda for the April 21st meeting.

Deanna is circulating a petition to overturn Kayla’s suspension from sports and has collected 151 signatures as of Wednesday.

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