Central exchange students barred from graduation

ROARING SPRING – On June 13, each of Central High School’s graduating seniors will walk in cap and gown, waiting for their names to be called as they finish their last year at Spring Cove School District.

And for possibly the first time, thanks to a policy change approved in 2012, the school’s three foreign exchange students won’t be among them, board members said Monday.

For years – at least as far back as board member James Smith recalled, citing his own graduation – the district’s exchange students have walked with their friends and received honorary diplomas before returning to their home countries.

But in the graduation list approved Monday by a 7-2 vote, the foreign students’ names were absent. Administrators and board officers pointed to new wording on the exchange student policy, which was altered to fit another policy’s rule that students complete “all board-approved graduation requirements” before joining the ceremony.

Those requirements include the state-mandated Keystone Exams and a senior project, High School Principal David Crumrine said. Two of the three exchange students, of whom two are Italian and one is German, initially hoped to complete the necessary work but later changed their minds, Crumrine told the board.

“The policy addresses [that there are] no more honorary diplomas,” Crumrine said. “The actual participation, I think, is an interpretation of that.”

Two on the board, James and Mary Smith, questioned the logic of a policy that deprives visiting students the chance to join in an American cultural milestone.

“What’s the harm in letting them participate in the ceremony as part of the experience of coming to the country and being in an American high school? … This is sort of the culmination of the American high school experience,” Mary Smith said.

Others said they’d heard complaints from parents whose children, by missing projects or failing classes, were kept from the ceremony while temporary exchange students took part.

“They say, ‘There’s an exchange student that’s been here a year. Why can’t my son walk?'” member Amy Acker-Knisely said.

While board member Julie Mills noted that the revised policy doesn’t specifically prohibit nonqualifying students from merely walking in the ceremony, the approved list doesn’t include them at all, Crumrine confirmed.

Mary Smith said prohibition from the ceremony has long been considered a punishment for those whose grades or attendance didn’t meet school standards – by keeping the exchange students away, they’re effectively punishing them.

Mills disagreed, explaining the board’s logic when they first revised the rules: “It’s not a punishment. You didn’t meet our graduation requirements; you don’t get to walk.”

Crumrine said administrators have explained the change to the exchange students, who he said accepted the risk that they’d be barred from the ceremony when they declined the state tests and final projects. While the policy change was passed in 2012, exchange students participated in the 2013 graduation, as the rule had shifted midyear.

“We walked them down recently and told them, ‘No, you can’t,'” he said. “And they knew that was a possibility.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.