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Administrators decide who will walk at graduation

WINDOM -- Students, parents and school districts are getting down to last-minute preparations for the high school graduation season.

At Windom Area Schools, that means establishing a written policy determining who gets to walk the walk.

The Windom School Board planned to meet Thursday for the second reading of a district policy intended to determine who is eligible to walk with classmates at graduation ceremonies. The policy would allow students one-half credit short of graduation to walk, though withholding diplomas until all requirements are complete.

"These issues become very emotional and very sensitive," said superintendent Doug Froke Thursday afternoon. "It puts a lot of people in a difficult position."

School board members in Sioux Falls, S.D., also know about difficult positions.

On Monday, a contentious Sioux Falls School Board meeting focused on two Lincoln High seniors who demanded to be allowed to walk during graduation despite being shy 22 credits needed for diplomas. The students, who missed significant classroom time because of health problems, were cleared to walk. Two days later, the school board expanded the ruling even further, agreeing to include any student with enough credits to qualify as a senior by the end of a school year's first semester.

Critics -- including at least two Lincoln students -- have charged that the board's decision cheapens the graduation ceremony. But board members said they don't want to limit exceptions to medical emergencies.

Froke understands how graduation controversies can occur. That's why he favors applying policy to paper -- something Windom hadn't done until now. "It usually has stronger legal standing" and eliminates hardships for decision-makers, parents and students, he said.

"We have had instances where we've denied students the honor of participating (in graduation ceremonies)," Froke explained. "Every school might handle it differently. The preponderance of schools probably have some issues to deal with that march area, when students are a few credits short. You can have philosophical discussions on both sides of the issue."

Worthington District 518 already has a policy on graduation requirements, said superintendent John Landgaard. It has come in handy.

"We have had some issues with that," he explained. "A lot of it is credit issues; some of it may be related to special education issues. We've had some tough decisions and tough discussions. I wouldn't say we've had difficult discussions working through the problem."

Generally, Landgaard said, all parties dealing with graduation requirement issues have been understanding. But gray areas can occur -- even when policies are written down.

"As we know, sometimes concrete, hard data isn't always compassionate," Landgaard said. "In cases like this, if you have these things predetermined, it can make it easier from an administration standpoint. But it doesn't always make it easier from the public's standpoint."

Landgaard remembered, in particular, a situation that occurred while he served as principal in another district. A senior, he said, had decided he could take the last month off of school and still graduate with his peers, he recalled.

"I always cringe this time of year," Landgaard said.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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