Tuesday, June 11, 2002

RADEL: What's fair?

Compassion lacking in decision

        A poster with a big “10” on it hangs in Brittany Perry's bedroom. Ten is not her lucky number.

        The 18-year-old was all set to graduate 10th in her class two Fridays ago during Clermont Northeastern High School's commencement exercises.

        Instead, school employees yanked her out of line minutes before the ceremonies began.

        On what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, a confused Brittany was sent down the line of graduates, down the alphabet and told to stand with the rest of the P's.

        This happened to Brittany because she went to a school where consistency is not a hallmark.

        Neither is communication. Or compassion.

        Brittany is a smart kid. An honors student.

        She took classes at the Clermont County high school and college-level courses at the University of Cincinnati's Clermont College campus. She earned A's and B's in the Post Secondary Enrollment Program.

        Her school district's guidelines for the program warn that enrollment comes with the risk of a “possible effect on grade-point average and class standing.” One reason for that risk is college and high school terms do not coincide. Grades may not be turned in at the same time.

        Brittany understood this risk. She also understands when an authority figure tells her she's No. 10 in her class.

        Ten days before the end of school, she was called into Clermont Northeastern's office. Her name was read over the PA system for being the 10th-ranked student in her class. The assistant principal congratulated her and gave her the poster with the big “10” on it. Brittany proudly took it home and hung it in her bedroom.

        Two days before graduation, Brittany attended an early-morning commencement exercise rehearsal. She was told to occupy the No. 10 spot. During the run-through she walked up and went through the motions of receiving diploma No. 10. She told me she even shook hands with the principal.

        Two days later, it was time for the real thing. Twenty family members — “including my great-grandparents from Iowa” — were on hand. As Brittany prepared to line up with her classmates she got the bad news. There was a new ranking. Brittany's college grades were not in yet. She would not be graduating 10th in her class. Off you go, kid, to the P's.

        Clermont Northeastern Principal John Theuring called Brittany's last-minute demotion “an unfortunate thing.”

        Brittany hopes it “never happens again to anyone else.”

        The principal didn't sound too optimistic. “Colleges,” he said, “operate on a whole different page than us.”

        So, get on the same page. College and high school educators are grown-ups. They can talk with each other. Solve the problem. Don't embarrass students on their special day.

        If these scholars can't resolve this issue, the high school owes it to the program's students to remind them of the risks and inform them of any changes in rank as soon as possible.

        Don't wait until they have donned their caps and gowns.

        “In hindsight, that would be nice,” said the principal.

        But, “when you do that,” he added, “you continue to take the personal responsibility of the individual involved away from them.”

        What a cop-out.

        High school principals have responsibilities, too.

        They must make sure all of their students are treated fairly. No matter what their class rank.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.


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