Breckenridge Texan

Students, community members address school board about graduation ceremony policy

Students, community members address school board about graduation ceremony policy
March 28
09:15 2022

By Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

The Breckenridge school board’s meeting room was packed last week when about 20 students, parents and other community members attended the monthly meeting in support of a petition to allow two foreign exchange students to participate in the commencement ceremony in May.

Two people signed up to speak to the board during the “Comments from the Public” portion of the meeting: Shalyn Owen, the Breckenridge High School senior who started the petition on Change.org, and Bo Asher, a BHS graduate who has supported the students since the petition was launched last month. Additionally, the board’s meeting agenda included a discussion item regarding the policy that prevents the students from participating in the ceremony, so that the school board members could talk to the speakers about the situation.

Earlier this month, after the petition was posted, Breckenridge Independent School District Superintendent Bryan Allen said that, in general, foreign exchange students are not allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony because they do not receive a diploma or certificate of completion. Since they have usually not completed all of the requirements for graduation, such as having taken a United States History course, they receive “certificates of attendance,” he said. Often, foreign exchange students are classified as juniors, rather than seniors, so graduation isn’t an issue.

At Monday’s meeting, Owen addressed the board first, reading from a prepared speech that she had to alter slightly after being told she couldn’t mention the names of the foreign exchange students.

“I think things need to change due to the fact that it is unfair for any exchange student to compete in athletic events and do all the things that a senior gets to do but is denied the most important part — the graduation ceremony,” she said. “Another reason I think this needs to change is all students, including exchange students, also got to take senior pictures with us and be told they’re seniors, but then some exchange students have had the most important part being taking away from them. The exchange students have had to overcome a lot of obstacles while being here. Who wouldn’t? Coming to a new country is very hard and very difficult for anyone. The exchange students anywhere are no different from us; they deserve the same treatment and respect as any of us do. A good resolution to this issue is to change the procedures in place to allow them and future foreign exchange students to walk at graduation if they have completed all the necessary requirements to receive a certificate of completion. These students create friendships while being here. And I know I speak for many of my peers when I say this topic is close to our heart. Exchange students become a part of our life and become friends, and we want them to share this special moment with us.”

Bo Asher, center, addresses the BISD Board of Trustees about the district policy on the annual graduation ceremony. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Immediately following her comments, Asher addressed the board. He presented them with information showing that in 2010, two foreign exchange students received certificates of completion and were allowed to graduate with the rest of the seniors. He questioned the changes that led to exchange students receiving a certificate of attendance rather than a certificate of completion.

“Although walking during the commencement ceremony is a landmark event for any student, it is not technically a requirement. The Commencement Ceremony is just for show. And here we are at the crux of the issue. If walking during the ceremony is just for show, then how is letting any exchange student participate in the ceremony going to negatively affect anyone’s life or cause the end of the world?” Asher asked. “If anything, it will allow any exchange students the ultimate bookend on their time here in Breckenridge. They’ll get to experience the same joy, excitement and cheers from the crowd just like their fellow students.

“And I’ll leave you with something to ponder,” he continued. “This month’s election had a total of 1,622 votes cast. Yet a petition by current BISD students … has over 1,670 signatures. Don’t you find it interesting that making any exchange student feel included has more support in our community than deciding who runs our government? I know I do.”

Once the public comment section of the meeting was over, School Board President Graham Reaugh directed the meeting to the discussion item on the agenda so that the board members could discuss the issue and interact with the speakers and anyone else in attendance.

“First, Miss Owen, thank you for your heartfelt speech,” he said. “I admire your courage for standing up here and in leading this and, you know, bringing this to our attention.”

Allen explained the BISD policy, which states, “A student who has satisfactorily completed all coursework requirements for graduation but has failed to meet applicable state testing requirements shall be allowed to participate in commencement activities and ceremonies.”

He clarified that students who complete all of the required courses as well as the state-mandated exams (the STAAR test), receive diplomas. Students who complete the courses but do not pass the STAAR tests receive certificates of completion. Foreign exchange students receive a certificate of attendance from International Student Exchange, the organization that arranges the exchange program, Allen said.

Board member Nic McClymond asked if the board could issue a one-time waiver, allowing this year’s exchange students to participate in the ceremony.

“We could,” Reaugh said. “But, so what we have to decide is, is this a graduation ceremony? Are we celebrating the kids that are graduating, which, for some, it’s no big deal; for others, they may have been the first person in their family to graduate from high school, and it is a big deal to them. You know … you have set a level of what kids have to accomplish to be able to participate. Sure, there are probably exceptions we could make or could not make.”

Reaugh went on to say that he thinks that the way the issue was presented on social media, including some negative comments about the school board, was detrimental to the situation.

Asher responded by saying that he was unaware of anyone attacking the school board and that they just wanted to bring attention to the situation. Then, he asked if there could be a special recognition during the graduation ceremony for the foreign exchange students who were a part of the BHS Class of 2022.

BISD School Board President Graham Reaugh and board member Carrol Kanady listen to BHS senior Shalyn Owen, who addressed the board about allowing foreign exchange students to participate in the graduation ceremony. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

“Sure, there’s a way to do that,” Reaugh said. “We could also not have foreign exchange students. I mean, that’s an option as well. This hasn’t happened or been a big problem before.”

Owen then addressed the board again, breaking down in tears, explaining that she started the petition before bringing the issue to the board because she felt like the board wouldn’t have paid attention to her if she had come to them by herself.

“I feel like what makes the point is people who care, and I have seniors behind me, sitting in here, who do care, who want them (the exchange students) to walk with us,” she said. “… I just needed people to know that they had my back in whole thing and that people actually cared. Because if I just cared, what’s the point? But if other people do care, then there is the point.”

School board members Carrol Kanady and Paul Lippe expressed their appreciation to her for coming to the board with her concerns.

“We’re proud of you for standing up for what you believe,” Kanady said. “That’s a leader.”

The board members and those attending the meeting continued with discussions about BISD policy and past practices. Allen said that he had talked to several other school districts and found that policies ranged from schools that do not allow foreign exchange students at all to schools that have foreign exchange students and allow them to participate in the commencement exercises.

Because the topic was on the agenda as a discussion item, rather than an action item, the school board could not make any changes to the policy at the meeting. However, Reaugh said that the item could be an action item at a future meeting if a school board member makes a request to the superintendent.

Students of the Month

Each BISD campus honored the Students of the Month:

  • Layton Luna, East Elementary kindergarten student
  • Zaylea Vinson, South Elementary third-grade student
  • Joscelynn Campbell, Junior High sixth-grade student
  • Isaak Eutimio, High School twelfth-grade student

(See pictures below)

Additionally, Allen announced the Teacher of the Month, Genie Graham, a fourth-grade English teacher at South Elementary. He also recognized Chuck Dooley being named Bus Driver of the Year for BISD, as well as one of four regional Bus Drivers of the Year for the state.

2022-2021 Calendar

Allen presented the proposed 2022-2023 BISD Calendar to the board. The administrators structured the calendar similarly to this year’s calendar, but with input from the district improvement committee, as well as from staff and community members, there are a couple of major changes.

Next year’s calendar has only two early release days, the day before the Christmas holiday break and the last day of school. Allen said early release days seem great in discussions, but in reality, very little educating happens on those days, so they end up being wasted days.

Another change to the calendar is that after the winter break, students will not return to school until Jan. 10, after the Stephens County Junior Livestock Show.

“One of the things we ran into this year is that, you know, the kids came back (after the winter break) on Tuesday. They were here Tuesday and Wednesday and had a half a day Thursday before we went into the Stephens County Livestock Show,” Allen explained. “So, this actually puts us going back after the livestock show. I feel like that works out a lot better for everybody.”

Allen said they tried to put at least one break in each month.

The Board of Trustees approved the proposed calendar.

Other business

The BISD Board of Trustees discussed and approved several other agenda items.

Since none of the school board candidates had opponents for the May election, the election was canceled and the incumbents who had filed for re-election were declared as elected, including Roy Russell – Place 3, Jimmy McKay – Place 4, and Carrol Kanady – Place 5.

Prairie Freeman, BISD Chief Learning Officer, presented the Texas Academic Performance Report(TAPR) for 2020-
2021 and the HB3 Board Goals and Monitoring report to the board.

The board also approved the following items:

  • the interlocal participation agreement with TASB Risk Management Fund,
  • a retainer agreement with attorneys Walsh, Gallegos, Trevino, Russo, and Kyle P.C.,
  • the engagement of an auditor from Merritt, McLane & Hamby, P.C. for the 2021-2022 fiscal audit,
  • the renewal for student accident/athletic supplemental insurance with Texas Kids First for the 2022-2023 school year.

BISD Board of Trustees members Nic McClymond and Jimmy McKay listen to the discussion about whether or not foreign exchange students should be allowed to participate in the annual commencement exercises. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

East Elementary Principal Barbara Collinsworth presents the Student of the Month award to kindergartner Layton Luna. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Joscelynn Campbell received the Student of the Month award from Breckenridge Junior High Principal Laura Gibson. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

BHS senior Isaak Eutimio received the Student of the Month award from Athletic Director Casey Pearce. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/ Breckenridge Texan)

Cutline, top photo: Breckenridge High School senior Shalyn Owen addresses the Breckenridge Independent School District Board of Trustees at their March meeting. She started a petition on Change.org in favor of allowing foreign exchange students to participate in the BHS graduation ceremony. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)


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