Originally created 05/23/01

Students get to be in service



Farrah Tolbert will walk.

And so will Columbia County's other 21 students who haven't done what it takes to earn a high school diploma.

The Columbia County Board of Education did an about-face on the policy it approved last year that excluded from the graduation ceremonies students who had not met the requirements for a diploma.

"I'm glad we have a school board that will listen to our issues," Bill Tolbert, Farrah's father, said after the board voted 3-2 in favor of letting students such as Farrah march at graduation.

Farrah, an 18-year-old Lakeside senior - who at one time contemplated dropping out of school - discovered two weeks ago she was 4 points shy of passing the social studies portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test. Though she had passed all the other sections - English, math and science - in five tries, the fifth test was her last chance before graduation.

The graduation policy, which was approved last spring, required that beginning with the graduating class of 2001, all students participating in the graduation ceremony must have completed all requirements for graduation, including:

The completion of a program of study with the appropriate carnegie units.

The completion of all sections of the Georgia High School Graduation Test.

The fulfillment of attendance requirements.

The board heard several emotional pleas for mercy.

Sara Anderson, a Greenbrier High School senior, wiped away tears as she told her story of being 2 points short of passing the science component and 6 points away from passing the social studies portion of the graduation test. She has an 84.95 grade average and is eligible for the HOPE scholarship, she said.

"I've dreamed of this (graduating from high school) as a child, and I've worked 13 years for this. I feel I should be able to walk across that stage," Sara said.

Students such as Farrah and Sara will march June 2 after a carefully worded introduction.

It's the same one that was used by principals last year, one that does little to distinguish those who are receiving a certificate from those who have completed all the requirements for a diploma.

Though she voted for the new policy, school board Chairwoman Roxanne Whitaker pointed out that nine of the students who failed the test did not participate in any remedial courses that were offered by the school system.

"If you have not satisfied all the requirements to get a diploma, that's a state board policy, not our rule," said trustee Wayne Bridges, who voted with Mildred Blackburn in opposing the new ruling. "I think we need to distinguish the other 98 percent who did pass this test. It's a tough situation, but these are the rules we're playing under right now."

The test will be given again July 22, and those who pass all sections then will be mailed their diplomas. In fact, students can continue to take the test until they pass it but if they decide not to take it again, their only option is to get a General Educational Development diploma.

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113, or melhall@augustachronicle.com.

"Mr. (Tommy) Price and members of the Columbia County Board of Education, it is my pleasure to present to you the members of the class of 2000 who have satisfactorily completed the requirements set forth by the Georgia and Columbia County Boards of Education to receive a diploma or certificate from ... High School."

Introduction to be used at Columbia County high school commencement ceremonies