Friday, April 21, 2006

How On Earth Could This Happen?

An exchange student from Poland does all the work needed to graduate from his Indiana high school but the powers-that-be won't allow him collect his diploma:
When Filip Lempa became a student at Mitchell High School as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, he planned to make good grades and behave well. He also pondered trying to earn a MHS diploma because he was in the 12th grade.

But according to an agreement between the Bedford Rotary Club and MHS, foreign exchange students cannot receive a diploma.

After several attempts to waive the rule, including petitioning the school board, the 19-year-old Polish student will leave MHS only with a certificate of achievement. Not only does he feel he earns the degree - he passed the GQE, and is following the Core 40 track - but says if he doesn't get a diploma here, he will have complete another year of high school when he returns to Poland.

Steve Phillips, MHS principal, said the school and the Rotary Club were up front with Lempa about what he could expect from his exchange experience. One of those expectations was that he could receive a certificate of completion from MHS, but not a high school diploma.

Lempa said before he left for the exchange, he was told earning a diploma could be possible, but that it depended on the school and how he met local requirements.

“I started to think about it early in the fall, and then one of the teachers asked me about it, if they were going to give me a diploma, or something like this,” he said. “And I said, ‘Well I didn't really ask them, I haven't asked them yet. I plan to ask them by the end of the first semester because by that time they will see that I make good grades ...'”

The teacher then suggested he ask about a diploma, because the Graduation Qualifying Exam testing was approaching.

After receiving approval to take the exam, Lempa passed. Phillips said the GQE test was offered to all exchange students, but Lempa was the only one who took it.

“He wanted to take the GQE to see how he did ... basically that's it,” Phillips said. “Anybody that asks to take the GQE, if they want to take it, they can take it.”

At that point, Phillips said he talked with Lempa about only being able to receive a certificate of completion. But Lempa said that was when he really started thinking about graduating from MHS.

Kathleen Lomas, who has been Lempa's host mother, said Phillips agreed to look through Lempa's transcripts.

“Dr. Phillips said that he would look at his transcripts,” she said. “And then he told Filip that he wasn't going to graduate him because it's too difficult to interpret all the foreign exchange student transcripts.”

Filip then offered to provide a translated version, which Lomas said Phillips agreed to see.

“So we contacted Poland and had court verified, translated transcripts, and they were on their way when Filip met with Dr. Phillips ... and he said, ‘Well no, you're not going to graduate,'” Lomas said.

Phillips said he reviewed Lempa's transcripts, because “due to factors involving the request, we felt the request should be researched to the fullest degree.”

Lomas said she then asked for assistance from Mitchell Community Schools Superintendent John Lantis, the MCS board of trustees, State Sen. Brent Steele (R-Bedford), and the Indiana Department of Education.

Steele and the IDOE said granting of a diploma is determined by the individual schools. And, the board denied the request for an exception to the agreement with the Rotary Youth Exchange Program to issue Lempa a high school diploma.

“This is very frustrating,” Lomas said, because she feels Lempa's request is a “reasonable and justifiable” exception to the policy.

“He meets the (graduation) qualifications,” she said. “He's a straight-A student. He played on the football team. He's on the track team. He has distinguished himself.”

Jim Cessna, with the Bedford Rotary Club, said that if Lempa is to receive a high school diploma, it would be from his high school in his country.
To me, the operative phrase here is "straight-A student." Filip passed the test. He done the work. He done it well. The kid should be awarded his diploma. Period.

TipWonk'd by: Mamacita of Scheiss Weekly who has more.

Update: (04/27) Felip Lempa stopped by our place. He explains his situation in his own words.
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