Noise claims keep teens from diplomasGalesburg district says disruption to ceremony violates contract; families claim racial bias
Friday, June 1, 2007
By Kevin Sampier
of the Journal Star
Galesburg - Five students were denied their high school diplomas after administrators said they or their parents were disruptive during graduation, but some say the decision is racially motivated.
District 205 administrators said all 268 graduating students and their parents were required to sign a "contract" before Sunday's commencement at Galesburg High School.
The contract banned "inappropriate or disruptive behavior," from parents and students, including screaming, howling, hooting, dancing, non-traditional handshaking and others.
Students Amanda Kelley, Nadia Trent, Caisha Gayles, Monique Williams and Dayvon Lampkin were denied their diplomas after they or their parents allegedly violated the contract.
Administrators say four of the students are black and one is of mixed race.
Trent said the district's decision was based on race and that several white students' families were loud and disruptive but their diplomas were not taken away.
"I think if you didn't grow up with money or aren't white, they picked you out," she said.
Superintendent Gene Denisar and Galesburg High School Principal Tom Chiles said the decision was not racially motivated.
"It had nothing to do with race," Chiles said. "It's a matter of who was disruptive to the ceremony."
Several students and parents met Thursday with Chiles, Denisar and Joel Estes, assistant superintendent of curriculum, hoping to reach an agreement on the diplomas. The hour-long meeting ended without one, but the group plans to meet again at 3 p.m. today at the school district office on Harrison Street.
"Our mind is totally open," Denisar said. "I'm willing to listen."
The contract said the school would withhold diplomas and block students from a school-sponsored after party if they or their parents broke the rules.
Thomas West, attorney for the school district, said the contract is not so much legally binding as "morally binding."
Kelley and her family say others in the crowd around them were being loud, but they were singled out by school administrators.
"It's not fair," Kelley said. "We're being punished for other people's actions."
The students are still considered graduates from the school, which will be reflected on their transcripts. The physical diploma, however, is being withheld by the district.
Denisar said the district has offered the students an option to get their diplomas back.
Each student would be required to perform eight hours of community service at the school.
"They can try to make us do community service for the diploma, but it's not going to make up for the day or the (after party)," Kelley said.
Denisar said the contract system was started last year, and several students were denied their diplomas then as well.
"There wasn't near the attention," Denisar said.
Estes said the school initiated the contract policy because the 2005 graduating class and their families were out of control.
"There were dozens of students whose names could not be heard (in 2005),"
Estes said. "It says their individual student is more important than the other students going through the graduation ceremony."
Kevin Sampier can be reached at 686-3041 or mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org