Tipp high school students rally behind senior asked to leave district

Tippecanoe High School students are rallying behind a student who been told he must leave the school district because he allegedly doesn’t meet enrollment policy requirements.

Around 40 Tipp City Exempted Village Schools students gathered Wednesday near the Board of Education offices to show support for fellow student Michael Bittinger, a senior who was notified Oct. 5 that he has to leave the district.

Bittinger was an open enrollment student the past few years but this year enrolled under district policy 5111 after the Board of Education last spring voted to end open enrollment.

Age 18, Bittinger said he meets the policy requirement of being 18 to 22 years old and able to fully support himself thanks to the Army National Guard and another job he holds. He said he rented a room in the community after returning from boot camp this summer and provided the lease agreement after applying to enroll.

Two weeks into the school year, he was asked for more documentation, Bittinger said, and provided it.

The notice from the board said he could not financially support himself, as required, Bittinger said.

“I feel I can financially support myself. I have been financially independent for a while,” he said.

Information sought in a public records request filed with the district Wednesday, Oct. 7, including correspondence between Bittinger and school officials/board of education had not been provided late Thursday afternoon.

Bittinger said he and his mother met Wednesday and Thursday afternoon with Superintendent Mark Stefanik but no resolution was found.

A petition protesting the order for Bittinger to leave school was posted on social media earlier in the week.

Stefanik said he couldn’t talk about a situation involving enrollment of a specific student but could discuss the process in general.

The four-page 5111 policy outlines a number of situations and if a student would be eligible to attend the district. The provision in question appeared to be the eligibility for tuition-free education.

The vetting of students to see if they met the district’s enrollment policies began once schools opened their doors for the fall, Stefanik said. More than one student situation was vetted but he could not say if there were other students notified they were not eligible to attend the district, he added.

“I am getting questions and getting input,” Stefanik said of emails being received from the community.

Theresa Dunaway, school board president, Wednesday morning referred all questions to Stefanik, who joined the district as superintendent this summer.

Bittinger said he tried to contact the board members – Dunaway, Corine Doll, Joellen Heatherly, Anne Zakkour and Simon Patry – and received a standard reply.

He said he plans to go active duty in the military after graduation but hopes to finish his senior year in a familiar setting.

“I would love to graduate from Tipp,” Bittinger said.

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