School Board: The policy won#039;t change in time#039;

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 12, 2001

At a special-called meeting of the Butler County Board of Education on Thursday, an emotionally charged issue topped the discussions before the board. When it was all said and done, many parents left the meeting disappointed.

More than 300 signatures appearing on a petition that called for the Butler County Board of Education to reverse its decision to prevent seniors unable to pass the exit exam from walking in ceremony were presented to all members of the board.

In letters addressed to Dr. Mike Reed and the members of the board, parents asked for the reconsideration of the decision to disallow high school seniors who have failed to pass the Alabama High School Graduation Exit Exam (AHSGE) to participate in the graduation ceremonies with their classmates.

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"We have been told by the State Board of Education that this is a decision made at the county level, not the state," said Kirby Blackburn of Georgiana, who's A and B Honor Roll Student has been told she could not participate in graduation exercises.

"She has done well in school for 13 years, including Kindergarten, and stayed on the honor roll-she did well on the teacher report card' SAT exams, but now they say she cannot graduate," he said.

"Our daughter Shannon has fulfilled all required criteria for graduation, with the exception of passing the AHSGE," said Debbie Lewis. She has also spent several hours between each exam with her teachers and tutors, studying specifically for the AHSGE.

"Many school systems have chosen to continue to allow the students to walk with their peers," Lewis said. "Think of the impact it has on a student, one who has done well through the school career, with the dream of graduating in ceremony-it is a terrible disappointment."

Two tenured teachers at Georgiana High School signed a letter to parents asking they take action in the matter.

"We are writing to request that each of you call all of the Butler County Board of Education members in regard to the rule stating that seniors who have not passed the Graduation Exam will not be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies," said Jennifer Burt and Rachel Burleson, senior class sponsors at Georgiana High. "We feel that if a senior has earned his or her 28 credits set forth by the board, he or she should be able to participate."

The educators also said in the letter that this county' decision could be overturned with the support of (parental) phone calls.

Georgiana High has three such seniors in this situation, according to the teachers, who said they feel it is important to the student's self-esteem and future successes to be included in graduation.

In closing the letter, the teachers included the phone numbers of all five board members.

"This test is so hard that it is being phased in," said Blackburn. "Only two of the five parts have a must-pass this year."

"We are not asking for our student to receive a diploma if she hasn't earned it-we just want her to be able to walk in ceremony with her classmates of 12 years," Blackburn said.

Dr. Mike Reed, board superintendent, spoke to the board members.

"Last year, if you all recall, we had a dual-standard," Reed said. "and if we change back to allowing the non-passing students to walk, then we will again have a dual-standard."

Reed then recommended to the board members that they allow the policy to stand-whereby students not passing the exit exam could not participate in graduation exercises.

A motion to that effect was never presented by any of the members, and a long discussion ensued, whereby parents in the gallery were allowed to discuss their views with the board.