High School Drama

by Nathan Stubbs

Teachers push back against LPSS graduation ‘request’  Graduation is a time for students to reflect upon the past four years, set their sights on new beginnings, celebrate their accomplishments — and for adults to fight over the ceremony.

During Lafayette High’s graduation ceremony last Saturday, five members of Lafayette Parish School System’s central office staff sat in gowns on stage along with the superintendent, Lafayette High’s principal, two school board members, and seniors being recognized as finishing high school with national merit and 4.0 grade point average distinctions.

Other central office staffers took seats on the floor with most of the students and teachers. But, unlike the other high school graduation ceremonies that day, central office staff members were not recognized individually during the ceremony and no school board members joined the superintendent and principal in shaking the hands of students who came up to receive their diplomas. The reason Lafayette High’s ceremony differed from the other high schools? A behind-the-scenes drama better suited for Lafayette High’s theatre department.

Last October, principals received a memo from LPSS Director of Curriculum and Instruction Louise Chargois, and approved by Deputy Superintendent Katherine Landry, requesting that each school make certain accommodations for its graduation ceremony.

The memo states: “Each high school is requested to ask their respective board members to come to the stage and join them in congratulating their graduates. Each high school is requested to introduce all board members and staff individually. An attendance sheet will be provided to each high school at the beginning of the graduation ceremony.” Some graduation organizers claim they were told these recognitions were required and should include announcing each staffer’s degree and university alma mater, an account Superintendent Burnell Lemoine disputes.

Nevertheless, it sparked a brush fire of complaints, the majority of which came from Lafayette High, the parish’s biggest high school. With 468 graduating seniors this year, Lafayette High had about twice as many diplomas to hand out as counterparts Northside High and Carencro High, but the same 90-minute time slot in which to do it. One Lafayette High teacher fired off a scathing e-mail to friends, two school board members and members of the media, admonishing the central office for putting itself before students at graduation.

“What is graduation for?” the e-mail read. “We have a large number of honor grads on the stage. They cannot be recognized by name — not enough time. We have students with major scholarships — they are recognized at the senior banquet because we lack time at graduation. We have to have a separate honors program because there is no time for awards at graduation, with the exception of 3 biggies. Valedictorians haven’t been able to speak for years — not enough time. And we now have to recognize the man at the school board who organizes the sales tax collections.

“I think someone needs to speak up about this offensive decision,” the e-mail continues. “Graduation is about recognizing students, not school system cronies, and time is limited. And even if time were not a commodity, it’s a matter of values & priorities, and wasting people’s time. Family & friends come to graduation for the students, not to give Board employees recognition. If they will not give up a day for graduation without recognition — then let them stay home.”

In the end, Lafayette High was not required to recognize any central office staff or school board members individually, and the teacher who wrote the e-mail sent a follow-up apologizing for raising such furor. “I haven’t changed my opinion about the poor priorities behind the decision and others like it,” she wrote in her second e-mail, “but I am embarrassed & ashamed at the manner of my ranting. I’ll start saying the Serenity Prayer more often.”