School district policy keeps teens from graduation ceremony

4:33 PM, May 25, 2010   |    comments
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Jenna Namack

Bradenton, Florida - High school seniors look forward to graduation day, but one Bay area teen has been told she can't walk with her classmates despite having passed her classes.

Walk into Jenna Namack's Bradenton home and you'll find her graduation portrait framed, the graduation announcement ready to mail, the cap and gown paid for in preparation for graduation day June 4th.

"Walking across the stage is the most important part to me, walking with my friends walking with the whole classmates," says Jenna.

But 18-year-old Jenna will not be walking with her classmates, despite having a 2.8 GPA and earning her high school credits. What's the hold up? FCAT.

The Bayshore High School senior has taken the FCAT reading portion six times. Her family felt optimistic this last time. "Good to go with all the tutoring she's been getting there. This time she went down... I think it's all the stress anxiety of taking all the tests," says Jenna's mother Dawn Whipps. Jennas's mother says her daughter has received professional tutoring, intensive reading programs at school and tutoring at home.

Seven Bay area school districts (Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk and Sarasota) allow seniors to walk with their class if they've earned the required 24 high school credits and still not passed the FCAT. These students receive a certificate of completion that can be traded in for a standard diploma once the required test is passed.

Manatee stands alone. It will not allow students to walk who have not passed either the FCAT, or its equivalent the ACT and SAT. Manatee school district officials say having earned the required credits is not enough for seniors to take part in the high school graduation.

"We have always taken a tough line. We feel it's a student's responsibility to fulfill their obligations. Many students do and for those who don't, we try everything we can," says Margi Nanney, spokesperson for the Manatee School District. She adds, "We do what we can, staying for after-school tutoring, online resources, anything we can do to help them."

Of 272 Manatee seniors who retook the FCAT reading test, 11 percent or 29 of them passed. That means 243 will not be walking with their classmates. Add to that total about 50 students who failed the math portion. Not all of those students may have earned their high school credits.

"It is unfortunate. Until we revisit that polic,y that is our policy. That is our rule," explains Nanney.

Jenna will be at graduation as part of the choir, most who are seniors.

"It's going to be tough watching them walk across the stage and not me," says Jenna.

Jenna tries on her cap and gown for the first time it's a bittersweet moment for her and her mother.  "It's hard," says Whipps as she cries at the image of her daughter dressed as a graduate. "Why are other counties deciding these students are good enough to walk and other counties say they're not good enough to walk? Why?" 

"It's not fair," says Jenna. "I don't think it's right that FCAT has to do everything with graduation."

Jenna plans on retaking the ACT in June. If she passes, she can graduate with other seniors in the same situation in August. "It'll be important, but it won't mean as much to me as if I walk with my friends, walking with my class and my friends."

Jenna says she plans to enlist in the Navy and pursue a career in forensics.

Isabel Mascarenas

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