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Pa. police put brakes on Drive Your Tractor to School Day

James Buchanan Principal Rodney Benedick said Wednesday's event will be last

February 23, 2012|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • Trevor Carbaugh, 16, a James Buchanan High School student, Drives his tractor to school Wednesday for Drive Your Tractor to School Day to celebrate agriculture during National Future Farmers of America Week.
Submitted photo

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — For the past five years, driving their tractors to school has been a way for some James Buchanan High School students to celebrate agriculture during National Future Farmers of America Week.

But a telephone call has brought Drive Your Tractor to School Day to a screeching halt.

James Buchanan Principal Rodney Benedick said Wednesday’s event was the last time it will be held.

“We were informed by the Pennsylvania State Police that this practice violates several Pennsylvania driving codes, and thus will not be repeated or supported in the future,” Benedick said.

Police contacted the school’s administration Wednesday after receiving a complaint about tractors being driven on roadways.

Police said it is against vehicle code to operate tractors on roadways unless they are being used for agricultural purposes, Benedick said.

“Unless something changes, we can’t have Drive Your Tractor to School Day again,” Benedick said. “As soon as we were told it was illegal, we addressed the situation.”

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Benedick sent a letter home with the 22 students who drove their tractors to school in case they were stopped by police on their way home.

“It was quite upsetting to the kids, and it surprised us,” Benedick said. “But the police are not the bad guys. They were just doing their jobs.”

There were no incidents or citations by police on Wednesday, school officials said.

The action angered Clifford Smith Jr., president of the Tuscarora School Board.

“It’s a show of solidarity of farmers and their kids. These are the people who feed us,” Smith said. “It shows the importance of agriculture to our community. This is a travesty.”

Smith is determined to get a law passed to permit students to drive their tractors to school once a year.

“Here are some kids trying to celebrate something good and wholesome, and they are getting beat up for it,” Smith said. “I think their right to free speech is being impinged upon, and their freedom of assembly is being stifled. I think their First Amendment rights are in question.”

When James Buchanan junior Jared Robinson hopped on his John Deere 4010 for school Wednesday, he was ready for what he called the “most fun day of the year,” but what he got was a huge letdown.

“When I found out, my heart sank,” Robinson said. “It’s the one day every year you really look forward to.”

Robinson, chaplain of the Conococheague chapter of the FFA, was shocked that anyone would have a problem with students driving their tractors to school.

“Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Pennsylvania, and everyone uses agriculture. This is our week to shine,” said Brook Martin, a James Buchanan senior and president of the Conococheague chapter of the FFA.

“FFA kids drive tractors in our daily work. I think it’s our time to show what we do and let everyone else have an appreciation for what we do, and the impact we have on our whole society,” Martin said.

He said students who drove tractors to school Wednesday arrived at school earlier than usual and left school later to alleviate any traffic issues.

“I think the main issue they (police) had with us was we weren’t doing farm work, but it’s part of our living overall,” Martin said. “Just because we want to drive our tractors to school for one day — we’re not hurting anyone, really. If we were doing farm work, it would be the same thing.”

The Conococheague chapter of the FFA plans to discuss forming a Drive Your Tractor to School Day committee at its March 2 meeting to consider contacting legislators about the issue. The meeting will be at 8:30 a.m. in the high school cafeteria.

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