This time of year, most high school seniors are either on vacation or finalizing plans to attend a college in the fall. But due to a policy issue, Brittany Hemphill of Benjamin E. Mays High School in Atlanta, Ga., is still waiting for her high school diploma.
Hemphill, an honors student, was sent a notification from Atlanta County Public Schools on April 7, informing her she had earned the right to participate in commencement exercises on May 27. But a few days before commencement, she was told she couldn’t participate. Atlanta County Public Schools seniors are required to pass all sections of the Georgia High School Graduation Tests (GHSGT), and Brittany failed the English/Language Arts section of the test.
“They had the test scores for over a month, and neglected to tell us until a few days before graduation,” said Casandra Johnson, Brittany’s mother.
Atlanta County Public Schools demands all graduation requirements be met before students can participate in commencement activities. Therefore, Johnson quickly pushed for a variance submission – a decision by the state board of education to modify all or part of the GHSGT requirements – on Brittany’s behalf. However, Johnson was met with resistance by school officials, specifically principal Tyronne M. Smith, she alleged.
“After withholding her test scores for a month, he kept telling us that she did not meet the requirements, when he actually did not understand the policies,” said Johnson.
“Because of that, we missed two of the state board’s meetings where Brittany could have been approved.”
Smith could not be reached for comment.
Brittany met the minimum number of requirements for a variance to be submitted. She passed three of the five graduation tests, and another examination that was also administered in the English/language arts subject area. A submission with the signatures of Smith and Brittany’s counselor was sent on May, 18. However, the state board had already met for the month of May and because of the delay in processing her paperwork, Brittany was unable to participate in graduation ceremonies.
“She was devastated,” said Johnson. “We had family there and everything. It’s just disappointing.”
Over 400 variances were submitted this past year, and all that were reviewed were approved. Because of these statistics, Johnson asked that an exception be made on Brittany’s part, allowing her to graduate without her case being heard by the state board. Her request was denied.
“We don’t make exceptions,” said Atlanta schools spokesman Keith Bromery in an Atlanta Journal Constitution article posted online May 27. “It’s not an entitlement to graduate, it’s an earned privilege.”
Johnson feels statements like that illustrate a disconnection between Atlanta Public County Schools and its students.
“I don’t think they have the students’ best interest at heart,” said Johnson. “Some kids may be at the point where if this happens to them, they would give up and not come back. I’m not backing down, though. I’m going to fight this. I’m going to fight for my daughter.”