FRANKFORT — Andrew Brennen had a message for the Kentucky Senate on Monday as he stood among a few hundred students and supporters in Frankfort who turned out to voice support for putting high school students on superintendent screening committees.
"The country is watching us," Brennen said. "Don't embarrass us. Stand with students and pass House Bill 236."
Brennen, student director of the Prichard Committee student voice team, said the rally on the Capitol steps was organized after two Republican state senators filed controversial floor amendments that appear to have doomed the bill.
Brennen, who graduated from Lexington's Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 2014 and returned to Kentucky from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for the rally, stood with high school students who held signs that read, "Save Our Bill" and "Stand wWth Students."
"People have gathered here from all across the state so that we can show the members of the General Assembly we know student voice matters, that we stand with students and that we want House Bill 236 passed this legislative session," Brennen said.
There was no sign Monday that their efforts would reverse the bill's fortunes by Tuesday night, when this year's legislative session is scheduled to conclude.
Rachel Belin, student voice team director for the Prichard Committee, said students met Friday with Senate President Robert Stivers but didn't get a definitive answer.
"Though the fate of House Bill 236 is still unknown to us, students continue to meet with legislators and remain hopeful Senate leadership will bring this bill to the floor for a vote before the clock runs out," Belin said.
Stivers said Monday he had concerns about putting students on a search committee for a superintendent.
"You have to ask if it is a prudent thing to do for the students," said Stivers, R-Manchester.
The high school students began their initiative when Fayette County Public Schools board members determined that under state law they could not allow students to serve on a superintendent screening committee. Such committees screen applicants and make a recommendation to school boards.
The Fayette County school board is replacing Tom Shelton, who resigned as superintendent in December.
Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes was among the state officials who attended the rally Monday and joined in on Twitter using the hashtag #standwithstudents.
"Proud to #StandWithStudents in support of a clean #HB236. Inspired by their voices and efforts," Grimes posted on Twitter.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, has been approved by the House and the Senate Education Committee.
Graham said in a speech Monday that the issue was not a Democratic or a Republican issue but "a student directed issue."
Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, filed an amendment to the bill on the Senate floor that would require transgender students to use school bathrooms designated for males if they were born male and for females if they were born female.
Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, filed an amendment to permit students to voluntarily express religious or political viewpoints in school assignments free from discrimination.
Both amendments contain wording from individual bills that stalled in the House.
Robinson said in an interview last week that he thought House Bill 236 had a better chance of passing with his amendment on it, though House leaders have made it clear they would not accept the bill if it contains either amendment.
Belin said the students "are hopeful that their rousing display of civic engagement demonstrated what is possible when young people are enlisted as partners to improve our schools."