Walbrook makeup classes delayed

Many students fail to sign up for required emergency courses

August 04, 2004|By Liz Bowie and Laura Loh | Liz Bowie and Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

An emergency summer school that was supposed to begin yesterday for 93 Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy students with invalid diplomas was delayed when fewer than half of them registered for classes.

The school's new principal, Shirley A. Cathorne, said she has extended the enrollment deadline to Monday and sent out a letter to the students who have yet to sign up for makeup classes. Most classes will begin tomorrow, she said.

"We worked on the kinks and the glitches, and we didn't have all teachers report to the classroom," Cathorne said.

During an audit of high school transcripts shortly after she became principal of the 2,000- student school this summer, Cathorne found that some students who participated in the graduation ceremony and received diplomas didn't have all the credits they needed to graduate. In addition, school officials discovered that hundreds of students in other grades who had been promoted did not meet academic requirements to move along. No summer school is planned for those students, and they will learn their status this month.

In an unrelated federal court hearing yesterday, school officials revealed they had begun to question Walbrook's student records as early as January.

Despite efforts by the school system to contact all affected seniors and their parents by phone in the past week, about half have not responded. Cathorne believes some families are out of town and others haven't heard the news.

Of the students who have signed up, about 26 will take their courses online and another 16 will be required to attend school to take their classes. Students taking a foreign language or physical education must take a class at Walbrook.

The classes taken on a computer can be done at school or at home, but students must check in with a teacher at school once a week. The online classes have been widely used before in the school system.

Students who start Monday still must complete the work they miss this week. The courses last 20 days. Cathorne said she would allow any student who does not attend summer school to attend regular classes in the fall to qualify for a diploma.

During a court hearing yesterday involving two long-standing lawsuits over the quality and funding of the city's schools, Student Services Officer Gayle Amos testified that officials first learned of discrepancies at Walbrook after a routine state audit of special-education records. The audit showed that students' educational files were incomplete or outdated.

Amos said outside court that Cathorne was informed of problems when she became Walbrook's principal. A more extensive review revealed that students had improperly been allowed to graduate and move to the next grade.

"We had an indication there were some severe problems there for special-education students, but I did not have any idea it was as egregious as it's coming out to be," Amos said.

The school system has launched an investigation into why the students were allowed to get a diploma without having completed the requirements for graduation. Former Principal Andrey L. Bundley has been placed on administrative leave with pay until the investigation is completed.

Bundley has said he had a policy of allowing students to walk across the stage and participate in the graduation without getting a diploma if they were within one or two courses of graduating. The students would not receive a diploma until they had passed their classes.

However, school officials said the 93 students who were being required to attend the emergency summer session did receive diplomas.

The academic officer in charge of high schools, Frank DeStefano, said yesterday the school system does not allow students to participate in a graduation ceremony if they have not earned a diploma.

In the year he has been in his job, DeStefano said only one student was given permission to participate in graduation despite the fact that he needed to complete some courses. An exception was made, DeStefano said, because the student had enough credits but had not taken all the correct courses and had been given bad advice by a guidance counselor.

Bundley said he had his own policy that allowed students to participate in graduation.

DeStefano said the school system will audit the transcripts of 2003 Walbrook graduates to see if they all had completed the course work.

"We are prepared to go back to 2002 should that be necessary based on the results of 2003 [graduates]," DeStefano said.

The review is necessary, he said, to ensure the public and students that the diplomas stand for something.

"It is not about Walbrook; it is about the diploma we grant in Baltimore City," DeStefano said.

Such a review could mean that Walbrook graduates who are entering their sophomore year in college could find out they don't have a valid high school diploma.

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