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Hernando schools chief: We screwed up

Richard Stone was one of the parents who was not let into the gymnasium.

RON THOMPSON | Times

Richard Stone was one of the parents who was not let into the gymnasium.

BROOKSVILLE — Sometimes an apology just doesn't cut it.

That's what some parents said Monday, nearly a week after graduation ceremonies at Hernando High School descended into a chaotic mess of shouting mothers, crying graduates and tight-lipped police.

Speaking to about a dozen parents, superintendent Wayne Alexander said the school failed to assign sufficient staff members June 10 to make sure those with tickets could find seats in the gymnasium for the 7:30 p.m. ceremony.

While there were at least 1,550 seats, and the building has an official capacity of 1,928 people, somehow those at the door began turning away some of the 1,519 people holding tickets, he said. And administrators failed to respond quickly when the situation began to fall apart.

"There was no one to coordinate the efforts to pack people in," Alexander said. "I'm sorry. We simply screwed up; we didn't do our jobs."

He said the district would hold graduation in the football stadium next year, with a rain date the next day, and a free DVD of this year's fiasco for all who missed it.

Parents said they appreciated those words and his willingness to hold the meeting with school officials and School Board chairwoman Sandra Nicholson.

But others told Alexander that his staffers had compounded their error by initially defending their actions, telling reporters the doors had been open until 7:15 for the 7:30 ceremony, when dozens of families had been sent to an overflow room 45 minutes earlier to watch the event on television.

"You put a kid through 12, 13, 14 years of school, you want to watch that kid graduate," said parent Richard Stone. "That's something you took away from me. I can't get that back."

Officials said they closed the gym doors temporarily around 6:30 p.m. to admit people with disabilities and stopped the flow of people periodically when crowds at the door grew too large.

But parents said no one told the crowd what was happening.

"We had kids crying and moms crying," said Jimmy Brooks. "It was a mess."

He and his wife were admitted to see their child graduate, while relatives were sent to overflow. Even after getting into the gym and waiting to be seated, someone tried to make them leave, he said.

"We managed to keep our composure," Brooks said. "And it was very difficult."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando schools chief: We screwed up 06/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 19, 2008 6:05pm]
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