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Hernando schools close year with two positives, one negative

Over the past 10 days, superintendent Wayne Alexander and a Hernando School Board majority authored compromises to benefit the students they are charged with educating, but the commencement week activity also included a heavy-handed administrator compromising a student's constitutional right to free speech.

Unfortunately, that decision by the principal at Springstead High School to censor the valedictorian's commencement address proved one final lesson in irony to the class of 2009.

We'll start with the positive: Alexander and School Board member Pat Fagan both had changes of heart and the students are better served because of it.

Alexander's reversal was most welcome. He decided compassion and a healthy dose of community service is a more appropriate reaction to a senior prank. His decision allowed 14 seniors to walk last week at commencement ceremonies with the rest of the Hernando High School graduating class.

Principal Ken Pritz and Alexander both banned the students originally, but the superintendent later offered the seniors the opportunity to perform 40 hours of custodial and beautification work as a substitute punishment. The students had been accused of entering the campus over Memorial Day weekend and rearranging tables and chairs and smearing grease on windows and doors as a prank.

Alexander was wise to take advantage of the teachable moment and reinforce to the seniors that actions have consequences. The students lost a week of summer vacation leisure time, but they also gained the valuable exposure to mercy and second-chance opportunities.

Another highly publicized prank — three Hudson High seniors commandeering the public address system on the final day of classes — earned the perpetrators the severe penalty of banishment from that Pasco County school's graduation ceremony. The Hernando High students and their families should be grateful they encountered a more sympathetic administration.

A day after the Hernando High graduation, Fagan matched Alexander's understanding viewpoint. He reversed his stance from earlier in the day and agreed with board members James Yant and Dianne Bonfield that seniors-to-be at Nature Coast High School who live outside the county should not be punished by the district's lax enforcement of the residency requirements for its magnet high school.

The board majority voted to allow three out-of-county members of the Class of 2010 to finish high school at Nature Coast. It was a difficult decision with board member John Sweeney opposing the motion because it was limited to just the seniors. He advocated that five juniors-to-be should be included as well. He was right, but couldn't build support. Requiring the juniors to switch schools halfway through their high school education is unfair. Yant wanted all 10 students to be grandfathered in, but couldn't find consensus.

Only Sandra Nicholson championed a hard-line and hard-to-figure stance to kick the kids out of the Hernando School District even though school-based administrators shared culpability for failing to catch the out-of-county addresses on the students' paperwork.

Nicholson would be better served by following the compassionate lead set by the superintendent and other School Board members. She shouldn't punish high school students for the failures of Hernando's own administrators.

The biggest failing, however, rests with Springstead principal Susan Duval who rejected the speech prepared by Jem Lugo, the Harvard-bound senior with the highest grade-point average.

Lugo's commentary telling students to earn a livable wage, pay taxes, don't get arrested, stand up for your beliefs and to "stick it to The Man every once in a while'' did not get presented Thursday at the Springstead commencement. Instead, Lugo rewrote her speech at the direction of Duval and the senior class sponsor, who feared Lugo's words could offend some audience members.

The mandated conformity is accompanied by hypocrisy. Duval, the principal, previously paid a $1,500 fine after acknowledging she plagiarized material for Springstead graduation addresses in 2004 and 2005. She should be rewarding originality, not stifling it.

Hernando schools close year with two positives, one negative 06/06/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 6, 2009 10:14am]
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