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Graduates...or not?
D.C. school officials say they don't know
(Published June 13, 2005)

Staff Writer

Five days after Anacostia Senior High held its graduation ceremony, D.C. public school officials said they were unsure how many students received their diplomas -- despite the students’ participation in the ceremony.

As most of the District’s public school seniors attended graduation ceremonies June 5-10, administrators at many of their schools were "reluctant to give out the number of graduates because some grades have not been tabulated and completed," Roxanne Evans, a spokeswoman for D.C. Public Schools, told The Common Denominator.

While the final grades for seniors at some schools have yet to be finalized, 21 of 22 schools have already held their commencement ceremonies. Only seniors at Oak Hill Academy, attended by juveniles who are under court-ordered criminal detention, are still awaiting their graduation ceremony, scheduled for June 17.

Evans said Superintendent Clifford B. Janey was unavailable for comment. A commencement schedule supplied by school officials showed the superintendent planned to attend only five schools’ graduation ceremonies.

School board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz was not scheduled to attend any of the ceremonies and could not be reached for comment, because she is traveling out of the country.

Charles Butler, a physics teacher at School Without Walls, told The Common Denominator that teachers, by contract, do not have to turn in their students’ grades before commencement.

"Grades contractually don’t have to be turned in until the end of the school year," he said.

Although students have completed all assignments before graduation, grades officially do not have to be turned in this year until June 21, he said.

School Without Walls seniors participated in their graduation ceremony on June 10.

District II Board of Education representative Victor Reinoso, who represents Wards 3 and 4, said he believes the inability to provide information regarding the number of graduating students after the ceremony has taken place is an issue for concern.

"Students should know by the time of the graduation ceremony if they have met requirements," Reinoso said. "It is unacceptable."

Officials at some schools told The Common Denominator that many students received empty diploma holders during their commencement ceremonies, with the diplomas to be mailed to students after grades are finalized.

Reinoso, who participated in the commencement ceremony at Roosevelt Senior High on June 9, said he looked in a student’s leather diploma binder out of curiosity, after speaking with a reporter earlier in the day, and found it empty

Students at some schools, including Roosevelt and Spingarn, were still being cleared to participate in graduation ceremonies anywhere from days to a few hours before the events were scheduled to begin. Gary Prince, an assistant principal at Eastern Senior High, said he was unsure of the number of graduates at his school one hour and 15 minutes before the ceremony was to begin on June 10.

Class rank, important for college-bound students, is calculated, in part, based on the total number of students in a graduating class.

Obtaining the number of graduates from many of the schools required numerous telephone calls to on-site administrators, with some at the same school providing numbers that differed widely. At some schools, including Anacostia and Wilson senior highs, personnel in the main office had a hard time finding any person within the building who knew the number of students who had graduated.

Four days of attempting to reach principals and assistant principals found few of them present in the schools which they oversee, no matter the time of day. Many principals were out of the building for the entire day, with other administrators unsure of the reason for their absence.

Based on numbers provided by school officials, more than 2,200 students participated in this year’s commencement ceremonies – nearly 300 fewer students than graduated in June 2004 from the 60,000-student school system. Fourteen of the 22 schools had fewer graduates than last year. Ballou STAY, an alternative program for returning dropouts and other non-traditional students, was the only school with a significant increase over last year’s number of graduates.

School officials provided The Common Denominator with the following number of graduates, but many were unable to assert that these numbers accurately reflect the number of students who received a diploma this year:

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator