LAKE PLACID - Nearly 40 students gathered outside the Lake Placid Central School District's Administrative Services Center Wednesday afternoon to protest the actions of district Superintendent Randy Richards.
The walkout began at about 1:20 p.m., in between the eighth and ninth class periods at Lake Placid Middle-High School and lasted about 15 minutes. Students and a few parents stood in the rain and several carried signs reading, "We demand justice," "We support our teachers," and "Frustrated."
The students were protesting comments made earlier this year by Richards, who has admitted to referring to female elementary school teachers as "bitchy" in a private conversation with middle-high school Principal Katherine Mulderig. They were also upset with recent spending decisions made by the superintendent, including the $10,000 purchase of video monitors for hallways and the cafeteria.
Lake Placid Middle-High School students hold signs during a brief protest Wednesday afternoon outside the Lake Placid Central School District offices. They walked out of class to show disapproval of district Superintendent Randy Richards’ actions.
(Photo for the Enterprise — Margaret Moran)
The walkout ended when Mulderig and Assistant Principal Dan Mayberry came outside and told students they had made their point. According to junior Mary Kate Graham, 16, of Lake Placid, the principals said the teachers would respect the students if they returned to class.
Reached by phone this morning, Richards told the Enterprise he had "no comments at all" regarding the walkout. Board of Education President Phil Baumbach said the board is preparing a statement, which he said would be released to the press later today.
Mulderig could not immediately comment this morning because she was meeting with student alumni panels.
Graham helped organize the walkout. She said she and some of her fellow students decided to do it after Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting.
"A lot of teachers spoke, and the board just chose not to listen," Graham said. "We figured, since our teachers have always been there for us, we needed to be there for them and take it to the next level and help them. We wanted our voices heard, and they won't listen."
Graham said the language Richards used was inappropriate, but the big problem for her has been his decision making. She said the television monitors were an example of poor judgment "during a financially difficult time" and that the board has embraced Richards for "moving our school into the 21st century."
Graham said the monitors and an $8,500 makeover of a conference room in the district office building - which included the purchase of a $1,200 SMARTBoard and 18 $300 chairs - haven't provided any educational benefit to students.
"I mean, the monitors, I've only seen one on inside our school, and they display pictures of waterfalls and scenery that we could just walk outside and look at," she said.
The controversy surrounding Richards' comments about Mulderig and female teachers at the elementary school added to the students' frustration, Graham said.
"When we heard about the things he said to her and our elementary school teachers, we got more involved," she said.
Graham said she knows that leading a movement of student protesters will put her in the spotlight and that she could draw criticism from some members of the community.
"I'm just willing to accept that," she said. "Obviously people will be against us, but who will keep trying to make a change?"
Graham said she and other students hope the board will take action to correct the situation with Richards.
"Things need to change," she said.
Graham isn't alone in speaking out against the superintendent. Senior Joanna Politi, in a Guest Commentary submitted Wednesday and published in today's Enterprise, said Richards is setting a "disturbing and disgusting" example for students.
"As a female student, I should not feel uncomfortable walking the halls and expressing myself about the ongoing issues that are affecting my school," Politi wrote.
At Tuesday night's board meeting, several parents and teachers called for Richards to resign. They said a written apology Richards emailed to district staff earlier this month wasn't enough. Baumbach responded that the board supports Richards' apology and that it's time to move forward together, as a district. The comment drew boos from the audience.
Graham said students plan to attend the next board meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 3.