Threat of protests cancels Law Day at Centre County Courthouse

Despite the fact that demonstrations in front of the Centre County Courthouse have always been peaceful, student safety trumps all.

May 1 marks Law Day in the U.S. — a day that some judicial systems take advantage of in order to bring students into the courtrooms and help break down what the various sections of the system do.

Judges, representatives from the different offices, police officers and even inmates are invited to give presentations for the students and help them understand how the judicial system plays into their lives.

Students from State College, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts were expected to attend events being held in the courthouse, its annex, the YMCA and St. John Catholic School. However, rumors of a possible protest led the schools to back out of the event.

According to Sheriff Denny Nau, rumors of a protest began circulating and appearing on Facebook. The protests allegedly were going to begin at the Centre County Correctional Facility before moving down the road to District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker’s office and possibly to the courthouse.

Protesters have at times carried firearms during their demonstrations, he said. Although protesters have been respectful to the sheriff’s department and have caused no problems in the past, he said felt it was best to inform the schools that the potential for interaction was present.

There were no protests Friday but, based on the reports, all the districts opted to remain in school.

Student safety was behind the decision to pull out, State College district spokesman Chris Rosenblum said. The safest approach to a potentially dangerous situation was not to participate.

Centre County Bar Association Executive Director Hollyce Winters said that, although she was disappointed in the outcome, she can respect the schools’ decision.

Planning for Law Day begins in February, she said, and the bar association put together a committee that did an excellent job putting together a program for Friday.

Contingency plans were in place to monitor the situation if the schools had decided to attend, she said. But the schools ultimately elected not to attend, and the communication with the schools was good given the circumstances.

President Judge Thomas King Kistler, who was to have given a presentation Friday, said Law Day is important because it gives the students an opportunity to get into the building and speak to the people within.

“When we take the programming to the schoolhouses, that’s good,” he said. “But it’s good to get them to walk into the courthouse, because they may have to at some point.

“The message is important,” he said, “and that is we are a nation of laws which apply equally to everyone — it doesn’t matter where you come from.”