OXFORD – For years, high school seniors from all over the county have participated in various activities to celebrate their achievements and to blow off some steam before heading off to college, the military and for some – the workforce.
It goes without saying that senior year for most every student is the end of an era in terms of maturity and that post graduation is where real life begins and the days of youth come to an end.
Keeping the behavior of excited seniors in check has always been a game of cat and mouse for most districts, and maintaining a balance of accountability while at the same time allowing for some freedom of expression is by no means an easy task when it comes to school administrators.
One of the most contentious activities of senior year is an event named “Senior Skip Day” – a day where the majority of the graduating class plans on celebrating their preemptive successes rather than attending a day of instruction.
According to Cheryl Webb, parent of an Oxford Academy High School senior, approximately 48 of the 55 students slated to walk for graduation in the next few weeks decided to do just that, but not without consequence.
“These kids have worked so hard their whole school career to have it all flushed away for a day of fun; senior skip day has been going on forever,” Webb said. “These kids are being wrongly punished and this school is being unjust.”
Webb indicated that when word of senior skip day got out to school administrators, High School Principal, Janet Laytham, advised teaching staff with seniors in their classes via email to assign a heavily-weighted in class assignment for each subject as a means of discipline, which resulted in some students receiving as many as five zeros to make up.
According to several seniors and an email believed to have been written by Laytham, the school would give students an opportunity to make these assignments up at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday June 8, and referred to the students make-up day as a “little breakfast club.”
“My daughter had over a 90 average in Economics and now has a 50, thats more than a little unfair and it seems very petty that the school would go to such length to discipline students that have worked so hard to maintain their grade average – all for missing one day of class,” said Webb.
By all accounts, the assignments that were dolled out on Monday were not in the curriculum, and that's where the friction lies between parents and the Oxford Academy administration.
District Superintendent Dr. David Richards was contacted by phone call, but declined to speak at length into the matter indicating that this “was a disciplinary measure” and that it was “against the district's policy to discuss ongoing disciplinary matters with the press.”
Phone calls to Laytham went unreturned as of press time today.
Patricia Moore, mother of Joseph Nelson class of 2014 valedictorian, understands the school's position, but doesn't necessarily agree with the execution.
“Luckily, (Joseph) only missed one class so he only received one zero, but his average in that class went from a 96 to a 78 because the zero was given so much weight.” said Moore.
“I don’t know if these students will be able to receive full credit for the assignments or partial, some students missed quizzes; others have essays to write.
“I don't even know if the teachers that were involved will participate in this make up session, some teachers ignored the directive completely,” she added.
Moore said that she would respect the school’s decision making if administrators would have simply performed their due diligence – reported the absences to the parents (most of whom were already aware) – and assign the punishment as stated in school policy rather than initiate an inconsistent punishment.
Moore said, “It has been going on for years and years, some parents stand behind it. I honestly don't believe this will stop next year's kids from doing it.”
Another senior, Haleigh Wakefield received four zeros Monday. “I'm staying after school to make up the 4 zeroes I received.” Wakefield received one zero for each class that she missed, “Quizzes were given in my Psychology, Economics, English & Art class, and I need Economics & English in order to graduate.”
While initially students were only given the option of making up the class work next Sunday, parents made phone calls to the New York State Department of Education in Albany questioning the district’s right to hold instruction on the weekend.
“I called Albany and they informed us that the practice was completely illegal,” said Webb.
Wakefield said, “The school isn't doing Sunday make-up now, so I'll be staying after school tonight and tomorrow until 3:15 to make up the zeros.”
The inconsistency seems to be what is most unsettling amongst parents.
“If the school was going to change their position on senior skip day they should have notified everyone ahead of time that there would be zero tolerance,” said Moore.
Moore indicated that while last year's seniors camped out in the parking lot, this year administrators seem to acting harshly in regards to the class of 2014.
“They can't sanction one year and then throw the book at the following year’s class,” said Moore.