Language Barrier Keeps Cambodian From A Diploma, But Not Graduation

May 29, 1991

Rick Long Khem will be allowed to share in the graduation ceremoniesthat will honor approximately 1,900 seniors from Howard County's eight high schools next week.

School officials initially barred Khem from graduation because he will not receive a diploma. But they but agreed last week to allow the 21-year-old Cambodian student to take part in the ceremony and receive a Maryland High School Certificate, Khem's adopted mother, Ellen Long, said.

The certificate is given to special education students at the endof their school careers. Khem will walk across the stage Wednesday, June 5, with the seniors of Hammond High School, his home school.

Khem came to the English for Speakers of Other Languages program in Howard County two years ago after two years in a special education program with ESOL classes in Prince George's County. He also enrolled inthe carpentry program at the Howard County School of Technology.

He worked hard, but in the words of ESOL teacher Deborah Doyle, "justran out of time" in his attempt to master English and learn the basic school subjects he did not have the opportunity to learn during hischildhood.

Khem is the first student in his ESOL teacher's memoryto arrive illiterate in his own language and be unable to catch up and pass the reading, writing and citizenship skills required for Maryland high school graduation. He passed the state mathematics test.

Other students will face similar situations, Doyle predicts. The school system does not have a policy established for students who must master the test subjects in a language foreign to them.

Daniel L. Jett, director of high schools, could not confirm the school officials' decision on whether Khem would be allowed to participate in graduation. He said releasing the results of an admission, review and dismissal hearing, a procedure used for special education students, would violate the student's privacy.

School officials agreed to the ARD hearing after the Longs contended that the inability to speak English should be considered a handicapping condition.

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