GALESBURG, Ill. Five students will get diplomas they were denied because of cheers at their high school graduation, after school officials relented today on a get-tough decorum policy.
Galesburg school officials defended their efforts to curb commencement rowdiness, but said the stalemate over the diplomas and the national media attention it has attracted has taken up valuable time and energy.
“It is time for the good of the community, the school district, the families and the students involved to move on. ... I have decided to grant to the students involved their diplomas,” Superintendent Gene Denisar said in a written statement.
Graduate Nadia Trent, who picked up her diploma from the school secretary shortly before 3:30 p.m. today, said she’s “just happy it’s over.”
“If they would have apologized, it would have been better,” said Trent, who said she would speak to her attorney about getting one.
The central Illinois school district will review its policy and continue efforts to make commencement a “respectful and dignified occasion that all graduates and their families can enjoy,” school board President Michael Panther said in statement.
School officials declined further comment.
Peoria attorney Jeffrey Green had sent a letter late yesterday giving school officials until 5 p.m. today to apologize and deliver diplomas that were denied when cheers at Galesburg High School’s graduation violated a school policy aimed at restoring commencement decorum.
Green, who took the students’ case at no cost, threatened a lawsuit if school administrators failed to hand over the keepsake diplomas, but said he hoped school officials would “come to their senses and do the right thing.”
School officials told students and their parents last week that they would hand over diplomas if they received apologies even anonymously. The students say tracking down the culprits is impossible because they don’t know who might have cheered among the crowd of about 2,000 people.
Students and their parents signed a contract about a month before the May 27 graduation promising they would not disrupt the ceremony. Violators were warned they could be denied their keepsake diplomas and barred from an after-graduation party, but still would officially graduate and receive their high school transcripts.
School officials say the get-tough policy followed complaints after a 2005 commencement where shouts and even air horns drowned out much of the ceremony in this central Illinois town of about 34,000 people.
The students and their families contend the policy quieted those problems in 2006, and that administrators were nitpicking this year, punishing them for a few seconds of cheering. Families also maintain that they didn’t cheer and say it’s unfair to make students responsible for everyone in the auditorium, which could even include people trying to get them in trouble.
Some also have accused school officials of targeting students because of their race, saying four of the graduates who were denied diplomas were black and another is biracial. Cheers also erupted for white students, they contend, but none were denied diplomas.
School officials have denied allegations of racism, saying administrators who monitored the ceremony only reported disruptions they considered significant, and all turned in the same five names.