Upon further review, Rome Free Academy students can continue sitting in the separate RFA student section at football games, reversing a decision that would have moved them across the field to the RFA Stadium grandstand and halted a decades-long tradition.
Student association President Nicolas Ferretti and Vice President Allie Grande said they and some other students met with administrators this afternoon, and were told the separate student section would remain.
The RFA varsity football home opener is Friday at 7 p.m. at the stadium against Cicero-North Syracuse.
The prior administrative decision to move the RFA student section to the main grandstand, which students learned of last week, had prompted protests from several students, parents and alumni. An online petition at change.org, titled "Get Rome Free Academy's student section back," had been launched by student Emily Brown and had gathered about 2,480 signatures as of this afternoon.
Among others who had opposed the student section change was Tricia Austin-Macri, an RFA parent and a member of the RFA Class of 1991. She said this afternoon of the reversal of the change, "It's all for the kids....This victory's certainly for them....I'm happy for them."
School district Superintendent Peter C. Blake said following this afternoon's meeting that "several of us met with a small group of students to discuss the myriad of things being thrown around."
He commented that "when being provided with options related to both the stadium seating and the actual team, the students preferred to remain where they have been," adding "it's a matter of doing what the students feel is in their best interest."
Blake observed, "I would say that for the safety and security of the facility, the audience should be in one location. But students are not seeing it that way and ultimately the game is about the kids on the field and their classmates who are there to support them. The kids feel they can support better from their normal location."
Asked about terms or conditions for students to remain in the separate section, Blake said "there are no terms and conditions at all, other than asking the students to police their classmates' behavior better. We have some ideas that will hopefully prevent students from 'wandering' the facility, which should cut back on the negative behaviors. The reason for the change is simple, the kids."
Ferretti said students were told in the meeting that the separate student section is a privilege, and student behavior in the section is important; he noted "we're going to reach out...remind kids" of that. Grande said students were told it is a privilege that can be taken away.
The prior decision to place RFA students in the main grandstand had been decided upon by the RFA administration, athletic department, security staff, Rome police department staff and football coach after discussing options, Blake had said this morning. He said people had expressed concerns for several years about declining behavior of spectators and students on the grandstand side of the field, and the school district's supervision staff was not near the grandstand to deal with the complaints.
It had been determined that the best option for student security and facility management was to place students in the grandstand, Blake had said. But he also had said it ultimately was up to the group managing the games or to the Board of Education to determine where students sit.
Board President Stephen P. Hampe, who was at this afternoon's meeting involving district and RFA administrators with students, said afterward in a comment on the Daily Sentinel Facebook page that "there were behavior issues and this was not just a matter of cost but a desire to keep everyone safe and able to enjoy the games responsibly."
Hampe said the student section will remain, but the student association concession stand will be "moved to a more visible location and any dye pack release will be coordinated so as to not impede the game or involve those who do not wish to be a part." Students have referred to powder throwing during the annual homecoming game, with results including clouds of orange powder hanging over the RFA student section.
The students leadership at this afternoon's meeting, said Hampe, "will be making it clear: they were invited to the table; they were heard; and they agreed to help with post-dye pack clean up and step up to encourage their classmates to keep their behavior responsible or restrictions would be appropriate."
Ferretti said the discussion at the meeting included students seeking to work together with the administration on issues overall.
Hampe said that on the board's behalf, he thanked "everyone who called and set emails. Your concerns and suggestions were received, considered and discussed."