By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County's roughly 2,600 new high school graduates will not receive a diploma during this weekend's commencement ceremonies at the Georgia World Congress Center.
They will walk across the stage and receive empty diploma folders, because Corrective Superintendent John Thompson's administrative team ordered the schools to shred the diplomas, hours before the first commencement ceremonies began Friday.
Thompson and members of his cabinet decided to destroy the diplomas because they contained the name and signature of former Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan, not Thompson's. Also, the name and signature of former Board of Education Chairperson Ericka Davis was on the diplomas, but she resigned from office nearly two months ago.
"They felt the diplomas should have the name of the current superintendent on them, rather than hand out diplomas which were inaccurate," said district spokesman Charles White. "The diploma is an official document, it's not just some ceremonial piece of paper ... There are also the small, laminated diplomas, which the graduates can carry in their wallets, to think about."
Jonesboro, Forest Park and Mundy's Mill high schools held their graduations on Friday. Riverdale, Morrow, Mt. Zion, North Clayton and Lovejoy high schools will hold their commencement ceremonies Saturday.
It may take as many as three weeks to receive the replacement diplomas, White said. He also said Herff Jones, the company which prints the diplomas, has not yet provided the district with a monetary figure for replacing them.
The school has to place its orders for diplomas six months before graduations in order to get them on time. The hiring of Thompson was not even considered until after the diplomas were ordered. He was hired in April.
High school diplomas containing the names of former school leaders are not a new occurance in the metro Atlanta area. In June 1996, for example, graduates of Cobb County high schools received diplomas which had the signature of former school board chairman Norman Bigham. His seat was vacated when he died more than a month before graduation.
When a news reporter continued to ask about Clayton's decision to shred the Class of 2008's diplomas, White said "Well, what would you have us do?"
The reporter noted that Duncan had been the superintendent for most of the school year, and Davis had been the chairman for nearly three and a half of the four years these students have been in high school. White reiterated the district's reasoning by saying, "They were going to have to be replaced, anyway."
White later justified the actions by saying, "I think we're taking the right steps in this case."
But, at least one student voiced displeasure.
Lindsay Hargis, a member of Jonesboro High School's Class of 2008, called the decision "unfair to the people who walked [Friday] ...
"They were expecting to come home from graduation and show all of their family and friends what they accomplished, and now they have to wait a few more weeks to do that," Hargis said. "It doesn't matter to us whose signature is on the diplomas. He wasn't even here when we started high school ...
"It's supposed to be our accomplishment, not his."