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(Enlarge) Students and some parents protest the demotion of Aberdeen High School principal Tom Szerensits in front of the school Monday morning. (Kirsten Dize | Aegis staff)

Updated at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, May 11.

Between 100 and 150 Aberdeen High School students marched outside the school before the start of classes Monday in support of their principal, who has been demoted by the school superintendent.

They also rallied at the Harford County Board of Education meeting in Bel Air later that night.

Several parents joined the protest to support the students, as local police stood by and at one point blocked off the street leading to the school.

The protest, which carried on past the start of classes at 7:30 a.m., was orderly, with the students carrying signs reading “Save Mr. S” and wearing T-shirts in support of their principal, Tom Szerensits.

Harford County Superintendent Robert Tomback told Szerensits, who has been principal at AHS for eight years, he would not be back as principal next year. Tomback gave Szerensits the choice of being reassigned to a lesser job, retiring or face the prospect of being fired. Szerensits was one of two high school principals demoted by Tomback. Szerensits told the school community two weeks ago by letter that he does not want to leave the school.

“The students were unhappy when they learned what was going on,” Tonya Baczeski said Monday, as she marched in the protest.

Baczeski, 37, has a sibling and a daughter who attend Aberdeen High School, and was out in support of Szerensits.

“We just believe you can’t blame one man,” she said.

She said any perceived problems at the school can’t be pinned on the principal.

She added that Szerensits is beloved by the students and that is a rare thing worth preserving.

Sieglinde Wilson was another parent protesting outside the school in support of the principal and her son, who is a freshman at Aberdeen.

Wilson said she has known Szerensits since 2003. She said an after-school program he instituted was the reason her older son graduated.

“It’s kind of messed up that they want to fire him,” Wilson’s son, 15-year-old Clarence Wilson III, said Monday.

Clarence characterized Szerensits as a good principal.

Nick Burdette, a 16-year-old junior at Aberdeen High, echoed Clarence’s words about Szerensits.

“He actually listens to kids unlike some other teachers,” Nick said.

Nick was joined in protesting by his friends Ryan Tripoli, 16, Marshall McClain, 16, and Don Merson, 15.

Many of the students gathered wore T-shirts and signs expressing their appreciation for their principal and dissatisfaction with the superintendent.

Several of the students who marched outside of Aberdeen High Monday shouted “Fire Tomback.”

Students also started chants of “Save Mr. S.” A number of cars passing by the school honked car horns or waved in approval at the protesters.

“He’s an amazing man and he was my English teacher,” Darla Druyor, a parent and former student, said of Szerensits.

Druyor, who graduated in 1989, said her daughter was told she would be off the varsity softball team if she attended the protest.

Druyor’s daughter went to class while her mother attended the protest.

“These kids should be entitled to support what the believe in,” Druyor said.

She said Szerensits was always there for the kids, both as a principal and a teacher.

“He’s a part of this school, he’s a permanent fixture,” Druyor said, adding, “I hope they reconsider keeping him.”

After 7:30 a.m., Aberdeen Police set up roadblocks on Paradise Road at Colaine Drive and on the other end of the school complex, at Paradise and West Bel Air Avenue.

Lt. Fred Budnick with the Aberdeen Police Department said the decision to redirect traffic was based on concern for student safety.

“We’re not going to sit here and watch someone get hit by a car,” Budnick said.

At one point during the morning, a student told other students who had crossed to the opposite side of the street that they would be arrested if they left school property.

Budnick said that was not the case.

“Our intent here today is not to arrest,” Budnick said, explaining that safety was the primary concern.

A number of students remained outside the school well after the 7:30 start of classes.

Last week, a spokesperson for the school system had said students would be charged with unexcused absences if they were not in class or if they left the school building to participate in the protest.

The protests continued later that night at the Harford County Board of Education business meeting at the school system’s headquarters in Bel Air.

About 20 students and parents came to the meeting, although only 11 spoke.

Maj. Jim Bushnell spoke on behalf of his daughter, who graduated from Aberdeen High School and is in the engineering program at University of Maryland.

“You simply could not ask for a better principal to guide your children,” Bushnell said.

Edwin Cloman, another Aberdeen parent, also came on behalf of his son and Szerensits. Cloman’s wife died four years ago, he said, leaving him a single parent, working two jobs and unable to keep his son on track.

“It’s hard to say this, but he’s one of the reasons why you [the board] probably made your decision,” Cloman said of his son’s academic failure.
Szerensits called Cloman several times, he said, “reaching out” to him.

“My son failed but it wasn’t due to his reasons,” he said.

A few students also came to show support of Szerensits, including Nick Burdette, who protested earlier in the day. He said it wasn’t fair to blame Szerensits for Aberdeen’s low test scores.

Nick Burdette also questioned Tomback’s role in his comments to the board.

“For someone to want to fire a great leader like that shouldn’t even be a leader at all,” he said.

Despite the many pleas to reinstate Szerensits, one senior had already accepted the decision. Jon Smeton just wanted an explanation.

“You cannot ask or even expect of the students to accept your decision without justification,” he said.

After the comments were finished, Szerensits’ supporters then headed outside to protest briefly before placing their signs on chairs in the board room and leaving.

Several school board members thanked the people for coming to Monday’s meeting, but offered little else in the way of comment regarding the situation.

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