ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) - Ann Arbor Public School officials are investigating whether students were turned away from Pioneer High School and sent home for unpaid library fines.
Ellisha Champine, an 11th grader, owed $35 for two lost school books. When she arrived on the first day of school and tried to register, she was told to see the principal, Michael White. Champine says he told her to go home since she wasn't able to pay the fine.
District spokeswoman Liz Margolis says White initially denied sending students home, but an investigation has been launched to examine if that is true.
A website for the school says, "Obligations for books and other items from last year or previous years must be cleared before students can complete Registration."
Margolis says the district cannot restrict a student's enrollment based on outstanding library fees alone.
"If it did happen, it is not acceptable. I can assure you it won't happen again," Margolis told Action News.
Champine lives in an affordable housing and gets support from neighboring Community Action Network. The community center's executive director Joan Doughty heard about what happened and went to the school to pay Champine's fine. At that time, Doughty says a school clerk showed her a stack of paperwork for nearly 10 other students who were also sent home because of overdue books.
She says the principal's actions are troubling when considered in the context of a bigger picture. "For me the message of sending a kid home is ‘I don't value your education,'" Doughty tells Action News.
The move also raised red flags about safety. Ellisha Champine was sent home after the school busses had already left. No arrangements were made for her transportation through the district. "To find out it was $35, and they couldn't make arrangements with me or contact me without throwing her out of school, I got really upset," said Sandra Pennington, Champine's mother.
If students were turned away, it's unclear if anyone would face disciplinary action. Margolis says that decision would be left up to the superintendent.