Sunday, February 18, 2018
Education

Elia defends Wharton principal for cutting graduation speech

TAMPA — A Wharton High School student whose graduation speech was cut short last week was simply experiencing consequences, superintendent MaryEllen Elia said Tuesday.

Responding to reports that salutatorian Harold Shaw felt punished because of his earlier criticism of conditions at the school, Elia defended principal Bradley Woods during the Hillsborough County School Board meeting.

Woods ended Shaw's speech abruptly at the June 3 ceremony. A district spokesman said it appeared Shaw might go off script during the speech, which went through several revisions before it was approved.

"When a student decides to challenge the rules or break the rules and the student is surprised that there are consequences, I am surprised," Elia said Tuesday.

She did not specify what officials thought Shaw might say. But she lamented that he never met with the principal afterward.

"At the end of the evening, Mr. Woods said to him, 'Give me a call and we can talk when you come in to get your diploma,'" she said. "He hasn't called Mr. Woods. He went by the office to get his diploma. He didn't ask to see Mr. Woods, who happened to be there. Instead, he and his family had a lawyer contact Mr. Woods and me."

Lawyer Thomas Parnell said the family hired him because they were concerned Woods might impose conditions before giving Shaw his diploma or forwarding his records to the University of Florida. He advised Shaw not to meet with Woods.

"I know that Harold did not ask to see him, nor did he want to see him," Parnell said.

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