NORWICH – On Friday Norwich City School officials impounded a tractor after a student drove it to school. The school has released no details about the incident.
School Superintendent Scott Ryan said Sunday the Norwich Board of Education would need to approve a community request to allow tractors at the school.
According to the Norwich City Police the impound fee for the vehicle was waived, but the student had to pay a $325 towing fee.
The incident caused a social media backlash resulting in a social media influencer with 2 million followers, whistlindiesel on Instagram, to support the student by offering to pay $500 to anyone who drove their tractor to the school on Monday.
The whistlindiesel account posted, “I don’t know this kid but @braedonbaker07 drove his tractor to school and the police impounded it out of the school parking lot while he was inside. When I was younger the school literally had a day intended for kids driving their tractors to school. I’m not mad just disappointed. I don’t believe calling them is going to send the message I want. I’m paying $500 PayPal to EVERY SINGLE PERSON that drives their tractor to Norwich New York high school Monday.”
School officials reported that over the weekend the school and police were inundated with calls and complaints.
Ryan declined to comment on the incident Monday morning as dozens of students and area farmers drove their tractor to the school in protest.
Ryan in a video posted Sunday said, “To anyone wondering the answer is yes, my phone has been inundated with screenshots from social media – despite my love and desire to promote staff and student successes at NCSD.”
“Here is what I know, kids for a very long time have made very silly choices. It is the adults in their lives that help guide them to make decisions that do not risk the safety of self and others, I'm banking on that fact for the kids of this nation - and boy do we need role models more now than ever. So lets talk tractors.
“Oh, and by the way, I love tractors. If the community thinks that our students should drive tractors to school lets petition the school board, I can and will help with that process,” said Ryan in the video.
“But I have to say I feel like our work on transforming NCSD into a model organization, as stated in our newly drafted mission and vision, involves some much bigger issues, none of which have anything to do with tractors.”
The superintendent said he was not a “social media person,” and was happy he had not seen the online discourse.
“I think my dislike must be sourced in watching people I care about with their heads buried in their phones rather than taking in all that is happening around them.
“This weekend I'm reminded, however, of the great power of social media to champion a specific cause to promote likes and dislikes or generate high traffic, to build a followership, to rally action around perceived injustices possibly,” he said.
Ryan said he just wanted people to be safe.
“Full disclaimer however, the school will not be responsible for any $500 payment if you choose to drive your parent’s, guardian’s tractor to school, but I can recommend a few worthy causes for donation if you do receive your payment,” said Ryan.
Norwich Police Chief Rodney Marsh said it was not illegal to drive a tractor to school, but said the school district could file a complaint to have any vehicle impounded that was parked on school property without permission.
Police set up checkpoints around the school Monday morning and directed tractor drivers to designated parking areas, preventing them from entering Midland Drive, a public road that runs along school property.
“We had to take steps after a $500 incentive was offered by an out of town influencer, out west somewhere. For the safety of parents and students during pick-up and drop off – we have dozens of buses, kids, pedestrians and heavy farm equipment in a small area, and so that's why we took steps to ensure public safety and limit traffic,” said Chief Marsh Monday morning.
A number of students drove farm and lawn tractors to the school Monday, but so did a number of parents and other local residents who saw the social media post.
The drivers said they were from Deposit, Bainbridge, South New Berlin, and Norwich. Some said they were former students, or parents of students, some said they wanted to show support for farmers, and others said they just wanted the $500.
One eleventh grade student, who asked not to be named, said, “I don't think the tractor should have been impounded. Plus, I just like having a reason to drive my tractor to school.”
Local resident and parent Rodney Becker said he sympathized with the student and that the school had gone too far.
“The kid drove a tractor to school to go pick up lumber after. He was denied permission but did it anyways, so they called him to the office and impounded the tractor,” said Becker. “I can't believe there wasn't a better way to deal with that.”