Students rally to keep student in school

TIPP CITY — A group of Tipp City students gathered in front of the board of education offices Wednesday afternoon with a singular purpose: to keep their friend, Michael Bittinger, enrolled at Tipp City Schools.

“It honestly brought me to tears last night, when I heard about it. I was driving home, and when I got home I looked at my phone, and I saw the petition and everything and how high it got, and I honestly sat there and I cried for a little bit. They were just tears of joy, I was so happy. I didn’t expect it to get that big, and I didn’t expect so many people to reach out, and it’s an awesome thing,” Bittinger said.

The petition, organized by Bittinger’s mother, April Barnes, reached 1,300 signatures in less than a day. Along with the petition, the protest was organized by Bittinger’s friends to show the Tipp City Board of Education not only how much having Bittinger finish out his senior year at Tipp City Schools means to them, but how important open enrollment is to them and the community.

“It’s incredible, I’m just — if nothing else, Michael feels so loved and supported, so it’s amazing. You see what great kids they have here in Tipp City, and just how they care about each other, and that’s amazing,” Barnes said.

In April, the Tipp City Board of Education voted to end open enrollment at Tipp City for the upcoming academic year. Bittinger, who has attended Tipp City Schools since kindergarten, knew he wanted to finish his senior year surrounded by his friends before enlisting in the National Guard. He saved up money over the summer in addition to completing basic training and, due to being 18 years old, was able to stay enrolled at Tipp City Schools by showing a lease agreement that proves he lives in Tipp City, although his parents and brother live in Butler. According to Bittinger, he had received approval to continue his education at Tipp City under school board policy 5111 section D, until he was asked for pay stubs, bill statements, and receipts to prove he was able to support himself.

“They were questioning whether or not I could financially support myself. They were asking for pay stubs, receipts, basically anything that was showing, you know, I am financially supporting myself. I felt that I made enough, or even more than enough, but eventually the school board reviewed it, and they thought that I can’t, for some odd reason, even though I make more than your average 18 year old,” Bittinger said.

According to Bittinger, the Tipp City Board of Education gave him until Oct. 11 to transfer to Vandalia-Butler, where his parents live, even though he resides in Tipp City.

“They just wrote in the email that, the board has found that you are not able to financially support yourself and you need to enroll back in your parent’s residing district by Oct. 11,” Bittinger said.

For Bittinger, it’s important for him to finish his senior year at Tipp City Schools; he loves the people, he loves the teachers, he loves the quality of education he gets, and he enjoys participating in marching band and concert band, where he plays sousaphone and the tuba, respectively.

“For me personally, I’ve been going here since I was in kindergarten, and I just have so many friends and so many good memories here and in Tipp City. I really do enjoy the school district and all the people here are so kind, the teachers are great, and from an academic standpoint, it’s just a good place. I’m really thankful that I’ve gotten to go here, up until my senior year, and I’m hoping that I can continue through it,” Bittinger said.

Tipp City Schools Superintendent Mark Stefanik was unable to comment on Bittinger’s case specifically due to privacy reasons regarding student records. He did give some insight into other policies that talk about student eligibility with enrollment at Tipp City Schools.

“There are other policies that talk about student eligibility and their parents have to say, you know, ‘this is why my student would like to come to school here,’ whether it be this provision or this policy, and then we have to investigate those other options in attending schools in the Tipp City School District,” Stefanik said. “Any student who meets the criteria of any eligibility provision is permitted to attend school here. That’s what we try to do. We try to review policy and check all the information we have to make database decisions about who’s eligible for school here.”