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Controversy surrounds CHS after exchange students told they can’t participate in graduation ceremony

Posted on Friday, May 17, 2013 at 5:19 pm

As graduation approaches for Coffee County Central High School, two senior students who thought they would be celebrating with their classmates and walking the line on graduation night have learned that they won’t be allowed to do so.

Foreign exchange students Caio Guimaraes from Brazil and Sigrid Eek from Norway were told Thursday by CHS administration that because they weren’t earning a diploma from CHS, they won’t be allowed to walk the line with other seniors next Friday when the class of 2013 graduates at Carden-Jarrell Field.

Obviously, we do not support this decision made by Coffee County High School,” said Kimberly Goodwin, the host parent for Guimaraes. “We feel like if you come here for your senior year you should be able to participate in commencement exercises. It’s part of the American culture, which is the whole reason for this [exchange program].”

The Times contacted CHS principal John Bush Thursday and although he wouldn’t discuss the students specifically, citing federal laws, he said students must earn a diploma in order to participate in commencement exercises.

“The policy is in the student handbook on page 13,” explained Bush. “Students must have earned a diploma, no exceptions.”

The Times obtained a copy of the student handbook from the Central High School website but could not locate the “no exceptions” clause. The pertinent part of the graduation guidelines reads:

“Commencement Exercises (Graduation):  All students enrolled in the current school year and have met all minimum requirements for graduation shall be allowed to participate in commencement exercises. Any student under suspension, expulsion, or assignment to the alternative school may not be permitted to participate in commencement exercises. (SCHOOL BOARD POLICY)”

Bush went on to add that graduation ceremonies “mean something” and are not a “social event.”

“This ceremony stands for something,” Bush said. “It’s not a social event, it’s an academic ceremony.”

Goodwin said she feels the situation was handled unprofessionally by the school.

“[Caio] ordered a cap and gown. We placed a sign in our yard and sent out invitations. He is not failing any classes and he did provide his transcripts from Brazil to the high school.

Should Central High School officials allow two foreign exchange students to walk the graduation line next Friday even though they did not earn diplomas from CHS?

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“It is very deceiving, to a degree, to let a child go through the whole senior year and then tell them.”

Meanwhile, CHS seniors have taken to Twitter using the hash tag “#LetThemWalk” to voice their disapproval of the decision. Some hinted that they would refuse to take part in graduation.

 “I’m not walking if they don’t walk. Who’s with me?” posted Dallon Lush, who is Goodwin’s son.

Emily Winton, an alumnus of the school, also chimed in on Twitter. “I’m embarrassed that my school system is so ignorant, but I’m proud of the students who stand up for what’s right,” she posted.

Senior Alaina Lusk turned to Twitter and suggested signing a petition in support of the students: “We need to make a petition and turn it in to the office!”

Scores of other students turned to Twitter Thursday and piled on in support of the students being able to walk the graduation line. Senior members of student government met with Bush Thursday but didn’t make progress.

“John Bush told my son [Dallon] that the reason was because he is not actually receiving a diploma and anyone who is not receiving a diploma can’t graduate,” Goodwin said

Goodwin said Guimaraes is upset.

“He is very upset. He feels like he and Sig are being singled out. It makes them feel like they are on the outside.”

The Times contacted Coffee County Director of Schools Dr. LaDonna McFall and she deferred comment to the high school.

“It’s really the high school’s issue,” McFall said.

The high school receives foreign exchange students through the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) program. Local coordinator for CIEE Jerry Tackett couldn’t be reached for comment at the school Friday.

In comparison,the Tullahoma School System has a policy in place that recognizes foreign exchange students at commencement exercises.

“There is some recognition that takes place,” said Tullahoma Director of Schools Dr. Dan Lawson. “You wouldn’t know the difference other than a quick distinction from the principal saying this student is from a certain place.”

Read more on this story in next week’s (May 22) print edition of the Manchester Times. Click here to subscribe to the print and / or online version of the Manchester Times.

-Josh Peterson is the editor of the Manchester Times. Click here to email him. Click here to follow the Manchester Times on Twitter.