Strasburg chief warns against school protest

Tim Sutherly

STRASBURG – Strasburg police are threatening to arrest any visitors who conduct protests on high school grounds.

Police Chief Tim Sutherly said Monday that protesters not part of the staff or student body will be charged with criminal trespass. Sutherly said the warning, which was posted on the department’s Facebook page Saturday, is intended to deter protests on campus, but not those conducted elsewhere in the community.

Sutherly said the warning was issued after several messages on social media sites indicated “adults and alumni” were planning to stage a protest at the school pertaining to the school administration’s handling of a school bus incident and the employment status of coaches who were on the bus.

Sutherly said some messages came from students, although any protests they conduct on school grounds are a “totally separate” issue from adult outsiders appearing on campus.

Seven boys have been charged with assault by mob as a result of the incident on Dec. 19 during which members of the boys varsity and junior varsity basketball teams were traveling back to Strasburg from a game in West Virginia.

The case has continued to percolate through investigations performed by local law enforcement officials and a Leesburg attorney hired by Shenandoah County Public Schools under federal civil rights law. While law enforcement officials have said they lack evidence of sexual misconduct by the juvenile defendants in the case, the Leesburg attorney and schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley have insisted such behavior did occur.

Sutherly, who wrote the department’s Facebook post, said police are determined to keep protesters off campus.

“Educational facilities, including but not limited to Strasburg High School, are not the appropriate forum for the general public to come and voice their opinions,” Sutherly wrote. “Strasburg High School is a learning institution for high school aged students and the number one priority of (the) Strasburg Police Department is to create and maintain a safe environment for students and staff. With that in mind, understand that it is the position of (the) Strasburg Police Department that anyone who comes to Strasburg High School for any reason, other than official and regular business, will be arrested and charged with criminal trespass.”

Sutherly said in an interview that he had no information about a time or place where any protests might be conducted. He said citizens had a right to peaceful protest elsewhere in town if they did not block traffic on roads or pedestrians on sidewalks.

“We understand the emotion and, of course, they have the right to peacefully assemble, but they’re not going to do it on school grounds, especially when kids are in their learning environment,” Sutherly said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com