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Absences will lock some out of graduation rites

Tougher attendance rules will force more than one-quarter of eligible Carson High School graduates to sit out commencement.

June 18, 2007|Howard Blume | Times Staff Writer

More than one-fourth of Carson High's graduates will miss commencement ceremonies because they missed too much school.

About 170 of 665 eligible graduates won't don a cap and gown because they failed to show up for more than 60 hours of instruction this year or were late to class more than 15 times.

A few students could win back their robes through appeals, but graduation is Thursday and documentation must be supplied.

The goal of this year's toughened attendance requirements is to get students to class -- even toward the end of senior year, said Principal Kenneth Keener.

All qualified seniors will still receive diplomas, but attendance slackers can forget about not only graduation ceremonies but also grad-night festivities at Disneyland. They already have forfeited the senior prom.

Carson High School, like other schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, has broad latitude concerning graduation-related privileges.

Keener said another South Bay high school requires student participation in the state's standardized testing program -- which isn't mandatory either for graduation or college admission -- for students to attend graduation ceremonies.

"Throughout the year, they get 60 hours to take care of normal business, trips to the doctor and dentist, going to appointments to serve as translators for parents who don't speak English. Normal things we figure are covered," Keener said. "Above and beyond that, if there are legitimate reasons, a student can appeal once they become ineligible."

The first appeal is to a committee of teachers and administrators. The next level is Keener, who estimates that he has granted about 20 exemptions.

"I have plenty of students who are over their hours, and they complain a lot," said English teacher Gregory Vieira. "It's an arduous process to clear absences. The principal is working tirelessly every day, meeting with students and working with parents."

Still pending, Keener said, is the appeal of Natalie Morales, who told the Daily Breeze newspaper that she missed 93 hours of instruction because of illness and to baby-sit a niece.

Senior Alex De Vera, 18, who will be walking at graduation ceremonies at the Home Depot Center athletic complex, called the policy unfair.

"A lot of my friends, who are in the top 100 in class rank, won't even be crossing the stage," said De Vera, who plans to attend UC Berkeley in the fall. "I feel bad for them because they worked hard the whole four years."

Senior Bruno Rodriguez, who ranks No. 2 in the class and is headed for the University of Wisconsin in Madison, was among those initially penalized as "over hours."

"Some were for scholarship interviews I had to leave early for, and some were for baseball games that my coach didn't clear himself," he said.

It took a week to straighten things out.

"There should be a better system for keeping track of the excused hours," he said. "But it does keep you in school, and that's what it's designed for."

Keener said the school was pushing up daily attendance even before he became principal two years ago, and it now averages more than 90% of those enrolled.

The 60-hour limit equates to about two weeks of classes, he said.

Like other L.A. Unified schools, Carson High has struggled to keep students enrolled until graduation day.

The class of 2007 began with 1,235 students in the ninth grade. Over four years, it declined by 46%, although some students will graduate in alternative programs.

"The incoming freshmen -- there are like more than 1,000 of them," De Vera said. "And then senior year, it's like, 'Where are they?' "

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