BALDWIN — At least 17 underclassman and seniors from Baldwin High School were suspended this week for staging what they called a sit-in protest against the school's administration for mistreatment of the students and an apathetic attitude towards student concerns.

The sit-in took place in the commons area of Baldwin High School on March 19. The students maintain they were protesting peacefully and not obstructing any students or staff as they went about the school day.

The 18 students who protested were all suspended for four days and said they were asked to leave the premises without being given a reason why. Several parents who were present to pick up their kids substantiated this claim. Afterward, Baldwin Community Schools superintendent Stiles Simmons said the suspensions were for refusing to return to class when told to. This is in accordance with the Baldwin Schools student handbook.

The students involved said the suspensions were another example of the Baldwin Schools administration trying to silence student opinions without addressing them.

"We don't have a voice and they don't want us to talk," said Daron Copeland, one of the students involved in the protest. "They preach about the wellness and education of the students, but they won't do anything to help us."

Simmons said these student complaints were not brought to his attention prior to the sit-in, however, he did say students are given outlets to express complaints. The students who were involved said these complaints were heard, but subsequently ignored.

Among the incidents the students claim were ignored by administrators was verbal abuse by certain teachers, unfair rules imposed on students that are not prohibited by the student handbook, and at least one case of a teacher physically handling a student.

"We would complain to the administration and we've gone to school board meetings, and it would all just get pushed to the side," said Brandon Childress, another student involved in the protest.

Copeland agreed.

"There were a lot of cases where they would just listen to us and then do nothing," said Copeland. "They will target students and not blame the teachers even if they're the ones at fault. My friend got pushed by a teacher and was suspended without any further investigation into it."

School board president Joe Brooks said these topics were never brought before the school board at all.

"I can't recall any of these issues being brought up at a school board meeting and I've been to every meeting," said Brooks, "We would have brought these complaints to Stiles Simmons if they were raised at a meeting."

Simmons maintains the school district does everything in its power to educate, care for and enrich students.

"We are deeply committed to the success of our children." said Simmons. "The staff, administration and community partners work extremely hard to help provide our students with the education they need and deserve. This is why staff commits to working after hours and on weekends to support the goals and aspirations of our children. This is why the community supports the Baldwin Promise scholarship program. This is why administration works tirelessly to provide the resources and leadership to bring new and innovative programming to our district. We love what we do and appreciate the opportunities to make a positive difference in the lives of children."